In ‘The bridges everyone else is jumping off’ Simon Madden gets drawn into the zeitgeist
My brain is a big, whirring association machine.
In 2017 every time I wasted precious lifeforce scrolling through Instagram, caught snatches of gym conversations or heard people plotting at the crag, I started singing the theme to Rocky under my breath. Like a dog salivating over a pavlova. That was because invariably I was either looking at or hearing someone talking about Eye of the Tiger (29) at Muline in the Grampians. If it was put up nowadays it would be called the Eye of Sauron, but it wasn’t, so it isn’t, so it’s the theme to Rocky not the Lord of the Rings, which anyway, I don’t know. The route ascends the kind of feature that brings you to your knees upon seeing it for the first time: a phenomenal eye-like sculpture that sees you scarpering up the left side of the iris, thugging across the sclera, turning the lip of the eyelid, delicately crossing the brow, then pumping up the forehead. Long, absorbing, varied climbing on unbeatable stone that is weathered into siranic architecture.
If I wasn’t singing Eye of the Tiger and punching sides of beef, then I was imagining myself in a world of enormous telephones, tables and stationary. It’s unlikely that anyone remembers Land of the Giants, it’s a very old sci-fi about a spaceship that gets sucked through warped spacetime to – you guessed it – a land of giants. The reason for my auto ad minorum imaginings was that all the pebble wrestlers were getting their wrestle-on on The Departed (V10) at the Valley of the Giants. It was THE problem to do because it’s very, very good. The moves are brilliant, the rock is bomber, the landing is great, it’s pretty straightforward to project as the ground slopes up under it so you can step on just about anywhere to work whatever section you want, while the high finish still adds some extra commitment-juice and ups the send satisfaction. Everyone was doing it. The season before all the kids were frothing like Cujo over another V10, Butcher’s Choice (which, obviously, conjured visions in me of Delicatessen and cannibalism and French surrealism).
These are examples of zeitgeist routes. Routes that send the masses mad with fever, they are fashionable flavours of the season that are on-trend must-dos (or at least must-trys).
The formula for being a zeitgeist route is simple but has many potential variables: it’s amazing climbing; it doesn’t need to be new but it needs to be newly popularised; it’s hard enough so that normals have to project it and hardies can send it pretty quickly, but accessible enough that punters might be able to get a sniff and work it a little – all variables that add to the gravitational pull at the centre of the zeitgeist. A zeitgeist send is brag-worthy for most and on the life-list for the strong, say something like 28-29, V9/10ish, a grade that is aspirational but achievable, and it has to be reasonably easy to access and work. Maybe you haven’t even tried it, maybe it is too hard for you, but it is not preposterous that you could do it if… if things went your way… if you just trained a little more… got a little bit better… got out a little bit more consistently, and you want it, you hunger for it. ‘Before I die’ you say.
Add more zeitgeist if it takes in a striking feature or is the gatekeeper route on a mythic cliff. Its chances of being the IT climb increase if it has had a rebolt recently as the people do love new steel. Add more zeitgeist if the ‘draws are on it reducing the commitment and upping the accessibility. It stands to reason that it’s pretty so that the bon vivants of social media are singing its praises and you see lots of photos or videos. Maybe it has a good history that Instragam poets and inspirational caption writers can quote and reflect powerfully and humbly on. It can’t be something like Serpentine, the Tote, anything in Hollow Mountain Cave or Hairline2000 as they are too eternal to be zeitgeist. The zeitgeist is changeable, fashionable and so-hot-right-now. Similarly Groove Train might be the best route in the universe but it is not the zeitgeist route because it is not accessible or achievable unless you’re a crusher. It might be the zeitgeist route of 2024, though when all the kids are climbing run-out 33s (aka Spanish 9a’s), although it’s more likely to be eternal like Serpentine.
Films in the ‘80s and ‘90s that are good but too long – Touchstone Pictures. This season’s in route in Victoria looks to be Touchstone Pictures (28), as thin and oozy as Eye of the Tiger is burly. When you first walk along the cliff line at Bundaleer to go and climb Blimp because it-is-maybe-the-best-20-in-Victoria-so-of-course-you’re-doing-it, just to the right you see The Brains, a mess of grey and orange matter extruding from an otherwise blank wall, and if you don’t want to immediately climb up to those enchanting buboes then you’re a damn fool. Everyone sees it, everyone wants it.
The first to act on the pull was Mike Law, whose dodgy and now defunct Dive Dive Dive (26) used to nip in from Blimp on, according to Grampians Selected Climbs, ‘chipped holds, had shitty bolts, didn’t go to the top of the cliff and was done with a rest on the runners!’ That little mess was cleared up when the flowing-locked Glenn Tempest latched a razor thin left-hand gaston, fought off a twinge that threatened to cramp an impinged right hip as he elevated his right hoof to a shoulder-popping hand-foot match and stood up to The Brains then blasted up the corner above to the top of the cliff.
Bruce Lee punching a Pikey Brad Pitt in the face – Tiger Snatch. This year in the Blueys it seems like Tiger Snatch (30) at Elphinstone is hot like fire. Elphi is the Casa Dura and if you can’t crank 30s you needn’t bother, but everyone wants to bother, right, and anyway if you live in The Mountains and can’t crank 30, are you really a climber? Everyone says you simply must go there! And because everything else is Grade One Million, Tiger Snatch is your mark. It is a variant of Love Cats (or is Love Cats a variant of Tiger Snatch?) and as the gatekeeper route of the crag if you send it you prove your bona fides and get issued a ‘Big and Tough Club for Climbing’ card printed with your name on it. On top of being tops, this then has the added pull of inducting you into a club and despite Groucho Marx’s assertion, everyone wants to be part of a club, especially if it is THE Club. Gatekeeper routes have added power in the zeitgeist. Naturally it’s harder than Victoria’s offering because if you live in the NSW you climb harder, it’s not that complicated.
Beautiful French free divers committing suicide in the Greek Islands – Deep Blue Sea. First put up at 13 by Chris Webb Parsons in 2008, new beta has seen Sydney’s Deep Blue Sea settle into 12, which might seem hard but that’s only if you are reading this in any other state than NSW – everyone knows that people from NSW are stronger than the Aussie average so 12 is aspirational there. Last season it got a procession of ascents by strong climbers who sprayed photos and videos all over the digital joint, fuelling the zealots of the zeitgeist and drawing all the pawing hands of Sydney boulderers to the Black Cave on the Northern Beaches.
It is hard to know where the winds of fashion will take us but I encourage you to look out for the re-steeled Lats in the Belfry (28) and You’re Terminated (29) at Arapiles, nothing like advertising that the old fixed mank has been brought up to spec to get the masses salivating. If you’re a blochead Smiles and Cries, a new 10 at the Valley of the Giants that is supposed to be even more bettera and amazingesque than The Departed, has a few gushing posts on Instagram and it could be the bloc à la mode for this season, equally it could be Damo Taylor’s new highball offering, The Fallen (V8), also in the land of the giants.
Of course, naysayers will shake their heads and click their tongues at the suggestion of a unified spirit of the age, and yet you’d have to travel to the deepest, most contrarian, misanthropic reaches of climbing to find someone who does not covet Eye of the Tiger, who does not stifle a dream to stand atop Elphinstone and roar like a tiger, who spits on the ground at the mention of The Departed. For sure you lot, forget ye not that sometimes it is okay to want what everyone else wants.