The Highest and Mightiest of all the Land – we tap into local knowledge to unearth the contenders for the best big blocs in Oz
Here they are, ten of the most tremendous highballs from around Australia, one from each state and (nearly every) territory (except the Northern Territory because it’s a land of mystery and should remain so). This list is not like other lists, which are completely subjective, instead this one is filled with FACTS. Because, as people say, we KNOW highballs, we have the best highballs, and we’re sure that the following list contains the ACTUAL most tremendous problem from each location, believe us. People who think otherwise? Sad!! So read on, it’s going to be HUUGE!!
Australian Capital Territory
King of the Hill (V5), North Black. FA Nick Churchill
Palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy… Nothing seems to get you going as much as a tall bloc with a bit of spice.
Despite its reputation for cushy public service jobs, the ACT is home to some pretty hard granite. Anyone who’s ventured out to North Black Range or Pierces Creek will know about it. The smell is probably the weirdest thing. Sort of smoky and dusty with hints of magnesium carbonate. The rock feels hard and kind of intimidating. It’s not gonna yield to your shitty sequencing and soft skin.
King of the Hill (V5) has all of that, as well as elevation that’ll bump your voice up an octave. If you’ve been up to ‘The Hill’ sector at North Black you’ve most likely played around on the intro to this boulder. The V3 at the bottom is the classic warm-up with cool blocky pinches and edges and tricky foot beta. I’d definitely grabbed the final holds of the three, looked up to the top of the boulder, then down at the pads and said, ‘Fuck that’. Maybe no one was ever out there with enough foam, but it’s kind of weird that this thing wasn’t done ages ago given the grade.
From the top of the V3 you make some great compression moves, commit to the sloper match, reach out left to the itty-bitty crimp, try not to make any embarrassing squeaking noises and the rock over on the slopey rail to gain those thank-god flakes at the top where you can breath again. Then figure out how you’re gonna get down.
There’s something awesome about the line, a clean block at the top of the hill with perfect smooth granite and incredible movement. If you’re ever out there with more than a few pads and a whole lotta psyche, get on it, it’s ‘only’ V5, right?
New South Wales
2000 Light Years From Home (V5), the Fear Factory FA Neil Wallace
‘It’s so very lonely, you’re two thousand light years from home.’
2000 Light Years From Home, the Rolling Stones.
It’s no surprise that you find New South Wales’ best highball at the aptly named Fear Factory. Straight off the Scary Highball Conveyor Belt is 2000 Light Years From Home (V5). The line comes factory-fitted with three of the essential elements of a terrifying big bloc: enough height to hurt (six or seven metres); a terrible, sloping, rocky landing; and a balancy, insecure crux that is at three-quarters height. First put up by Neil Wallace, as far as we know, the problem has only had a handful of ascents, including one flash ascent by Douglas Roden back in 2009, with most people being put off by the widow-making landing. Wallace wrote about the first ascent for an article in Rock, ‘I remember telling Pete (Balint) to spot me until I was too high and then maybe go downhill a bit to stop me rolling off the drop on to the track if I fell. In hindsight it sounds a little ridiculous.’
Pie Face (V7), Harvey’s Marbles. FA Andy Lampard
Based on popularity alone, everyone’s favorite V6, The Good Wife, in the Inner Circle surely deserves a mention. Others include Spenser Tang-Smith’s frightening 12m pillar Deliverance (V3), Rob Saunders’ Five Year Cigar (V7) or my own line, Returnity (V5). All are brilliant arête on narrow standalone boulders characterised by tenuous and technical moves, elegant climbing and dynamic cruxes way off the deck. However, the true aesthetic jewels in the Harvey’s highball crown are the lines on the spectacular Three Brothers Boulders, a trio of massive boulders perched on the escarpment edge, a 45-minute walk from the car.
It took 15 years of psyching up, and multiple trips in the winter of 2016 for Andrew Samuel and Madoc to finally stash every pad in their possession out at the Brothers, in preparation for its first season of ground-up highball development. Just getting to the summits of the top and bottom Brothers were early objectives, if only to fine-tune the descents before attempting the harder lines.
One of the most elegant and arguably the best of the spectacular lines on the Three Brothers is the gently bulging face splitting the Middle Brother, the shortest of the three. Pie Face is a committing 7m-tall V7 on perfect granite. It starts with steep and powerful moves off a chunky, in-cut flake, followed by a series of vertical cranks on small but positive edges, which guard the crux mantle onto a slopey narrow rail at two-thirds height. Blankness and weirdness above the rail, and a strong desire not to fall, gets you to a thin seam just below the more amenable top-out. Despite a day of attempts and increasingly bruising falls off the crux by both Andrew and Madoc, strongman Andy Lampard timed his interstate visit perfectly to swoop in and collect this prime first ascent. As is usual in teamwork bouldering, this was all the motivation it took for the rest of us to quickly pull Pie Face’s second and third ascents and affirm its word-class quality.
Nati Beast (V6), Belair National Park, FA Steve Kelly
You could be forgiven for thinking that South Australia, with a land size of 983,482 square kilometres, would have a proud, ultra-classic highball boulder problem that outshone the likes of The Mandala, mocked the thought of Careless Torque, and reclassified every Quantum Field boulder to ‘lowball status’. However, unless someone starts developing the house-sized blocks beneath Moonarie, these thoughts will continue as nought more than dreams.
The closest possible ‘classic’ thus falls to Nati Beast, a Ross and Hamish Meffin 1992 top-rope problem that now has had half a dozen solos. Perched in the Belair National Park, this problem sits above a flat landing dangerously close to a forest of brambles, and involves a jump start to a one-handed jug some 3m off the deck. A further 5m gets you to the top, meaning the final blind slap around the arête at the 6m mark is truly a mentally defining moment.
The route-come-boulder, believed to have been soloed for the first time in 2005 (above a down jacket and half a packet of pretzels), went unrepeated until Craig Ingram had a sniff in 2008. Thereafter it had ascents by the pink-shorted Adam Gower (2013), but more recently Trent Searcy. Trent’s ascent represents the natural progression for this line, as it was the first ground up ascent (though thankfully he didn’t use a pretzel packet as a landing).
Other highball boulder problems of note include the unrepeated One Year a Slave (Enchanted Forest), Electric Lavender Vacuum Cleaner (Car Crash Quarry) and Anzac Highway (Norton Summit) – but you better take more than just one pad for that number…
Sugarlumps (V8), Mount Wellington. FA James Trainer
Tasmania is host to the world’s largest dolerite exposure, meaning there is no shortage of columnar jointed dolerite pillars, some free standing (think Totem Pole), some close to others and so forming cliffs (think Organ Pipes). Due to this style of rock formation the island is littered with highball boulder problems, which in times long gone used to be first ascended fairly often on traditional gear and have in more recent years seen bouldered with pad, shoes and chalk. More recently still, a small group of strong dedicated climbers have pushed the boundaries of highball bouldering in Tasmania beyond what was previously seen as unclimbable on traditional gear.
High atop Mt Wellington, below the tourist lookout and above the Organ Pipes, nestled on an escarpment of short and stumpy dolerite pillars sits one massive plinth with an overhanging arête jutting out like the bow of a ship.
The problem, Sugarlumps (V8), FAed by James Trainer (nee Scarborough) in 2010, is not the highest in Tasmania. In fact, it is several metres shorter than most of the other test pieces in the ‘Highball World’ also on Mount Wellington, and around 2m shorter than another contender for the Tassie’s best, the Flinders Island big bloc masterpiece Killer Crank (V6). What differentiates Sugarlumps is the dynamic crux at the top of the boulder with a potential for a climbing-career ending fall. Directly below Sugarlumps the aspiring climber finds themselves laying out crashmats on the first of the three terraces that form the stepped landing. The first pad, reasonably flat and close enough to allow the climber to get to the start of the pillar. The second landing zone, around 1m below the first zone and about the same width and depth is where you will find your spotter, if you have one. Anchoring the spotter down has been considered since a spotter is not much use should you take them down to the last landing tier with you. Coming to the last tier, mainly consisting of further sloping ground covered in subalpine shrubs and spiky bushes, this is where you will find yourself if everything has gone wrong, around six metres below the start of the boulder and around nine metres below the gently sloping top jug. If you have been convinced to try Sugarlumps, you will also be rewarded with spectacular views of southern Tasmania and should your landing not go as planned, if you look closely, you can even spot the Royal Hobart Hospital.
Deathproof (V8), Stapylton Amphitheatre, Grampians. FA Oliver Miller
Sitting right in the middle of Stapylton Amphitheatre on the tier below the Snakepit is a one-of-a-kind highball. The rock is unusual for the northern Grampians – black and covered in veins similar to Mt Fox, but coarse textured like some of the rock around Halls Gap. Clean cut with subtle features, gently overhanging and pretty as they get. Pockets and demanding pinches get you to the technical crux at around half height. After latching the crux flat edge, two sloping crimps with big lock-offs between take you to the lip of the boulder. Here it’s airy but easier as the climbing continues for three or so moves into the no fall zone to top-out at about eight metres.
The landing is as good as you could hope for, but take at least two big pads and ideally double that. To my knowledge it’s only been climbed ground up once, in an impressive ascent by Chook Betts. Everyone else has rehearsed it on top rope, which I’d highly recommend if you like your knees. Why is this my pick? It’s clean, hard enough, straight up, super consistent, the holds are perfect, it’s high but not a solo, the landing’s great, it’s in the shade all day and is bang in the middle of the one of the most popular areas in the Grampians.
Jonesy’s Arête (V8), Contos. FA Chris Jones
There are a couple of other good highballs that spring to mind, like Seeing in the Dark (V8/9) at Mutton Bird Rock, or Red Can Dreaming (V10) in the Kalbarri Gorge, but Jonesy’s Arête is the one that sticks out the most. The rock quality is great, the location is beautiful, and the crux is right at the top!
I messaged Jonesy and asked him about the first ascent, interested to know if he had any pads or if he had worked it on a top.
‘Rob Wall, Dan Harris, Gerard Chipper and I found Merchant Rocks (Contos we called it back then) after we arrived at Contos campsite late one night to find it full so we drove down the road and dossed in the car park. Next morning we ditched our plans to climb at Bob’s Hollow and spent the day bouldering there. It was weird to find those blocs right there as I’d been surfing at Contos since I was a kid, but I never went to the end of the road to see them. Shane Richardson may have done some stuff there before, but there was a bit of loose rock that made it seem like we were the first, but who knows? I probably did six to eight days there in total and maybe 30-40 problems, very few of them ever got named or graded so it’s especially cool to see a new generation rediscovering them. I love it.
I saw the arête at Merchants straight away on the first day and worked out the start, but with no pad I down climbed from the crux. I went back down south with Gerard a week or two later, rapped it to scope the top and give it a clean and did it first go after that. I had a small S7 pad that I brought home from Sheffield and as I did the crux the pad blew away and I looked down to see Gerard chasing it to stop it before it went in the sea. Classic. I remember thinking it was probably E5 on grit but given the landing, maybe E6? I’d been in Sheffield for ages and then J-Tree for a while so I was pretty happy at that height and with that style. I called it Daytripper. Good memories.’