Me, Myself and I

Jed Parkes solos every route in Arapiles Selected Climbs graded 16 and under

WORDS: Jed Parkes, IMAGES: Simon Madden

It has been argued that the preponderance of really high-quality easy routes at Araps is responsible for infantilising generations of Victorian climbers. The reasoning goes that you can have so much fun bumbling around very moderate grade routes as the movement is fantastic, the rock exquisite, the spread of different route types akin to the biodiversity of the Amazon basin, the exposure delicious if you want and the protection either bomb-proof or pant-filling, depending on your proclivities, that there is simply no need to push up into higher grades. Yeah, you can throw yourself at Spasm in a Chasm when someone has left the gear on it or project Have a Good Flight, but aside from these few forays your entire climbing career can be set to the cow-bell tune of clanging hexes. And a bloody joyous career it would be.

Taswegian Jed Parkes has just packed a lifetime of such climbing into a month at Araps as he set about scaling every route into Tempest and Mentz’s bible to the Mount, Arapiles Selected Climbs, graded 16 and under. Only he did it without the encumbrance of a rope (or clanging hexes).

Jed on Scylla (15).

Jed on Scylla (15).

How did the thought come to do it?
Nine months ago I got injured with a slap tear in my shoulder. At first I was pretty bummed, but I knew I needed to find focus to get me through the injury without getting depressed. I’ve never been that strong of a climber. My mind has always been my strongest asset so it made sense to push myself mentally and since then I’ve been focusing on my soloing. I had a one month window at Arapiles and needed focus for the trip.

How did you go about it? Did you start at the left end of the massif and work rightwards or go up the grades?
I started with all the longer climbs and just went sector by sector. At first I had no idea if it was an achievable goal, I just knew I had to do on average 10 climbs a day for 31 days with no rest days to do it. I’d get up between 6.30am and 7am most mornings to try and get climbs done before it got too hot. After doing days like Watchtower Left, Right and Tower (1602 total metres climbed) and Mitre Rock’s 35 climbs in a day I knew it would be achievable.

I actually had to slow down towards the end and just did the 10 climbs a day due to my shoulder getting a bit pissy.

Long shadows and last light on the original finish to Touchstone (15).

Long shadows and last light on the original finish to Touchstone (15).

Has doing all those routes altered your perspective of the Mount?
I know the place very well now, but perspective wise it’s just the same amazing place with a special energy.

Looking back at it what moments stand out most strongly in your mind?
So many ‘moments’, but getting stung by a bee on my eyebrow on Smooth Journey (14) on Collision Course Wall is up there. I’d gone up the day before to climb it but got a few metres from the bee’s nest and they were already coming at me, so I backed off. At first light the next morning it was super misty, I couldn’t see the Bluffs from the Pines, so I went up, looked up at the nest and couldn’t see a single bee. So I went up and as soon as I put my hand in the hole one came out stung me in the face and proceeded down the sleeve of my shirt. Meanwhile I’m madly trying to traverse away from the nest in case more are coming and swinging around trying to get the bee out of my shirt. Pretty funny in hindsight…

Were there any other necky moments or was it all smooth sailing?
Smooth sailing all round. There were no foot slips or anything like that. There were a bunch of climbs where I felt pretty out there. The most out there was when I accidentally onsight soloed Pacemaker (19) when I thought I was on New Tricks (14). New Tricks is the only climb on the buttress in the guide so when I went up there I saw a line of chalk and a bolt, which was roughly where the line traverses left. It looked bloody steep, but a lot of grade-14 routes at Araps are steep and juggy. It wasn’t juggy. I thought I was just tired and having a bad day. I wasn’t really surprised when I found out where I went wrong. I went back up and did the 14, which traverses five metres higher. I was a bit more cautious of double checking where lines went after that.

What are your top five routes under 16, the Top Gun of easy route fun?
I come from Tassie where the star system has turned into a bit of a joke. When a large percentage of the climbs have three stars how are visitors supposed to know which routes are the good ones and which ones are the must-do’s.

Lady Dihedral (15) on the back of the Pharos.

Lady Dihedral (15) on the back of the Pharos.

Arapiles Selected Climbs has nailed the stars. There wasn’t anything that I thought deserved more or less stars. So basically follow the stars and you can’t go wrong. These are my top five in no particular order.

  1. Bard (12) – It’s popular for a reason. five pitches which all have a different style of climbing.
  2. Agamemnon (11) – Exposure!
  3. Arachnus Variant (9) – There’s not a bad move on this one. My fave to take people on for their first solo.
  4. Syrinx (10) – Long, close to camp, high quality and negotiates its way all the way to the summit of Tiger Wall.
  5. Tiptoe Ridge (5) – Sitting on top of the pinnacle is one of my fave spots to chill.

What were the worst five, the kind that should by rights be naturally selected out of Arapiles Selected Climbs?
There’s only one which I thought was absolutely rubbish, Calypso (15). The guidebook sums it up with ‘dicey rock and suss pro.’ It fails to mention that it’s also covered in moss.

The step across to Spiral Staircase (8), one of the most popular solos at the Mount.

The step across to Spiral Staircase (8), one of the most popular solos at the Mount.

What were the hidden gems that you would never have thought about doing and why have they flown under the radar?
This list could go on forever. For me it was mostly one-star climbs in obscure places. Here’s a few that pop to mind.

  1. Lynx* (15), Kitten Wall – This one stood out the most. A traverse that starts at ground level and finishes at ground level. I do love a good traverse.
  2. Nativity* (16), Echo Crag – My second fave, a cruxy bulge at the beginning then the flake is great.
  3. Ejaculation* (15), The Organ Pipes – Good crack climbing on the first pitch then the second pitch looks easy but is reminiscent of the layback crux of Watchtower Crack.
  4. Xena* (10), The Pinnacle Face – I’ve gone back to this one multiple times, quality climbing the whole way with a fun steep section near the top.
  5. Scarlet Sage* (15), Baby Buttress – Short but fun if you like cracks.
  6. Rush of Blood* (13), Heckle & Jeckle Area. – Fun slab with just enough holds to make it the grade.
  7. Angel Black (15), Spellbinder Area – Really good face climbing, pity it doesn’t go on for longer.
  8. Salami* (11), Harlequin Cracks Area – I love a good grovel.

What was totally sandbagged?
A bunch of no star routes that probably no one has ever climbed but the two that pop to mind are West Coast Dogma (14), Manx (14). Both are old-school, wide, deep, full-body crack warfare. Watch out for no star routes from the ‘60s because maybe they were 14 in 1965 but they are nails in 2018.

You must have passed by a lot of other climbers, what response did you get from the public as you were soloing around the joint?
I climbed most of the time with headphones in so I’m sure there was a lot I missed, but a few moments stick out. On the Pinnacle Faces day I ran down the Pharos Gully seven times. There was a group climbing in the Fly By Night Gully. I’d say hello every time I ran past, on the fifth time they laughed at me and compared the scene to when the black cat in the Matrix appeared twice and called me the glitch in the matrix. One kid who was climbing with his father said, ‘Hey dad, that guy’s like James Bond!’ At first I was flattered but then I thought shit, I hope he didn’t think I was the Pierce Brosnan Bond.

There was bad soloing accident with a climber from NZ messing himself up quite badly after falling off Dunes (13) around the time you were working through your list, did that give you pause to think about what you were doing?
Not really, he made bad choices. From what I heard he had been drinking. I feel like I’m pretty in tune with what’s going on in my body right now. Some days I would do a climb and something inside me wouldn’t feel 100 percent right and I’d just call it day. As frustrating as it was you have to just go with it. I’m very aware of the consequences.

One of the most out there positions of the mission, Watchtower Crack (16).

One of the most out there positions of the mission, Watchtower Crack (16).

You’ve been doing a lot of soloing in the last year, what do you get out of it?
It’s a sort of meditation for me. Every solo is different. Topping out and feeling the vast mix of emotions is pretty addictive.

How do you think about the risk involved with soloing?
I’m aware of it but I don’t really think, ‘Okay. I’m going soloing today I could die…’ Of all the things we do in life I feel like I have way more control over the situation than over a lot of other things. Say you get to the top of a climb, you say take, and your belayer hears safe and the next thing you know… There’s a lot of blind trust involved in life.

I feel like in a lot of ways soloing is safer than climbing on a rope. You never get complacent soloing. I’ve heard very few stories of people getting hurt soloing vs the number I have heard of abseiling, thinking your rope reaches the ground then accidentally rapping off the end, that sort of thing. The moment I start a solo I go into another place. So focused. Totally aware of my choices, actions and consequences.

How do you prepare for a solo ascent?
Recently I’ve been doing a lot of – not sure what you’d call it – Redpoint? Headpoint soloing? That’s completely different. I would run laps on toprope until I memorised every hold, every body position. All the micro beta. Then when I feel I’m ready I solo it.

For this mission, though, it was just climbing, nothing different from any of the other styles of climbing. All the climbs had to be done. I’d just walk up to the base and start climbing.

One of the attractions of soloing is not being weighed down by any gear but we hear that you actually smashed a lot of gear across the 310, what happened?
Just wear and tear mostly. It was 13.6km of climbing all up. I wrote off two pairs of La Sportiva TC Pros, put multiple holes in pants and shirts from groveling up chimneys, blew out two pairs of headphones – the connectors kept getting kinked in my pocket. I actually killed my best 70m rope cause of all the abseiling. Every day I’d fix a rope in the area I was climbing and use that to get off all the climbs. It was the quickest way. One good thing was I did end up winning a pair of La Sportiva approach shoes from TheCrag for most pitches climbed in their Easter Comp so that was nice.

It seems like soloing is having a bit of a golden period around the world at the moment, do you think that is true and what do you think is driving that?
Yeah, I suppose it is. A few years back a friend asked me what I thought about soloing and I just said something like, ‘Yeah nah, I’m not really into soloing, just don’t see the point.’ That obviously isn’t the case anymore. Knowing that I have the potential to do something and not exploring that potential would feel like a waste. I’ve got a lot of friends that inspire me to solo. Seeing them push themselves inspires me to do the same.

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