Interview – Tom O’Halloran Dangle Pigging

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In ‘Dance of the Dangle Pig’ we catch up with Tom O’Halloran who riffs about sending Schweinebaumeln – aka Dangle Pig, Oz’s other 35s, his diet and how to be a strong daddy

Images: Kamil Sustiak 📸 ⭐️

You recently repeated Alex Megos’ Schweinebaumeln at Elphinstone, the second grade 35 to be established in Oz and until now unrepeated. Can you tell us about the route and the process of climbing it?

The route is rad! Lee Cossey bolted it back in the early days of Elphinstone and it lay dormant for some time. It takes a pretty striking line up the inside of the big arête in the middle of the cliff. It follows a line of edges and flakes for 20m to arrive beneath an imposing, unfeatured roof. Around the roof there’s a vague eight-metre prow sprinkled in holds that are only just close enough to reach between. The prow stops at a good break under the final bulge, where a very droppable sequence is the only thing between you and glory!

I was always drawn to the line – it looked like a proper journey up the wall. From where the majority of the other climbing happens on the main wall, you look over to the right and see the line proudly sat there waiting for your chalk, skin and inevitable blood sacrifice. When I was climbing anything else on the wall I’d always be looking over to it wondering what it would be like. I hadn’t seen anyone on it, but it just looked so inviting. It’s a reasonable bit harder than many of the other routes on the wall, which added to its allure.

During Alex Megos’ second trip to Australia in April 2015, Lee [Cossey] offered the route up to him. A few days of effort from Alex resulted in Australia’s second 35. Schweinebaumeln aka Dangle Pig aka The Pig aka anything else ‘pig’ related, was now a thing to be done! I saw Alex working and climbing it and it just looked sooo fun.

I tried it for the first time in summer 2015–16, just checking out moves and seeing what it was all about. I was extremely unfit – work, family and life had taken over, and that first day I was blown away by how hard it felt. It was some of the most sustained climbing I had ever been on! I didn’t even get to the top that day. I think I went to under the roof and lowered, cleaning my ‘draws off. I had to get fit!

Tom fully engaged on the crux of Schweinebaumeln (35) at Elphinestone, Blue Mountains.

Tom fully engaged on the crux of Schweinebaumeln (35) at Elphinestone, Blue Mountains.

At this point I still had a few of my own projects at the cliff I wanted to get done. So for the next couple of years I committed the better conditions to the first ascents of Kitten Mittens (35), Sue’s Last Ride (34) and The Milkbar (33). It wasn’t until January 2017 that I got back on it, and by this time it was all sorts of hot! So I just used it as a training route, working out the subtleties and building some small links together.

The 2017–18 Elphinstone season came around and it was buggery hot but I was happy to just slime around and again look at it as training. I committed the good autumn ’18 conditions to the first ascent of The Milkbar extension (34).

This season came around and I was psyched to commit the good conditions to The Pig. On my first day back I got to the jump move under the roof, a high point from the previous summer. The bottom half of the route is probably 32/33 – very consistent with holds that somewhat resemble resting holds but are in fact sandbag rests. If you take anything more than a few moments on these ‘rests’ you’ll get pumped, then try and recover further, then get more pumped, continue trying to shake out the pump, get even more pumped, decide nothing is working so you might as well go – and then fall off a few moves after having just tried your absolute hardest to ‘rest’. There was a certain rhythm I needed – quick and efficient was the key. With pretty much all the routes on that cliff, the more time you hang on the wall, the more time you have to get pumped.

Anyway, the lower half lands you at a not-so-good jug at the base of the roof. This is another rest that isn’t really a rest. The hold is roundy on both sides with a goodish bit in the middle. The good bit only accommodates one hand so you have to do a bit of sharing and compromising here. Each hand was allowed to have two fingers in the good bit and the other two fingers had to deal with the roundy bits and not complain.

The roof is the crux and it has one of the more wild sequences at Elphinstone – of which there are a few! You leave the ‘rest’ with your right hand, moving to a small slot that wants to be crimped but won’t let you as there’s too much cliff in the way for your knuckles to get much elevation. Your left foot now comes up to a heel-toe cam on the rest jug next to your left hand. Keeping your core ultra tight you have to punch to a pod with your left hand. The pod is junk. It’s basically vertical and has a tendency to feel like a recently-microwaved bowl of porridge that has too much milk in it. Now comes the tricky bit – squeeze the three points on the wall together, bring the right foot up into a drop-knee on the rest jug in front of your face, release the left heel-toe and stab the toe into the roof to a small ripple. The jump position is now engaged and set for blast off. Throw your chest and hips high into the roof in the direction of the next right-hand hold, your hand will know what to do and follow. The hold you throw for is about 1.5m away and it’s a good letterbox ‘jug’ when used in opposition with the left-hand pod. Your feet cut and do all sorts of helicopter-break-dancing and you try your absolute hardest to hold the compression between the two hands and slow the momentum of your lower half. Once you hold the swing and have somewhat stabilised yourself, you need to pull up into a front lever, stab your left foot out at full extension to a rampy foot, right foot flags out right to balance yourself and you now dive with your left hand across yourself to a thin, letterbox slot. Your feet swoop off again and fly around and around. You’re now just under the lip of the roof and you can swing a right heel up around the lip to a good rail and bring your hands up to two good edges. This is another ‘rest’.

The roof had always been the obvious crux. It is probably around V9 and requires some pop when you don’t feel pop-able. The jump needs you to really own the set up position and will not allow any soggy-armed climber to pass.

Tom and his daughter Audrey’s artistic interpretation of Schweinebaumeln.

Tom and his daughter Audrey’s artistic interpretation of Schweinebaumeln.

 

This was the tricky thing on redpoint. I didn’t feel I had much left in my arms to own the position. I could get there every time, but having the power and strength to throw properly and catch the right hand was another story. I was getting very, very close, I knew it was going to happen, but a little frustration was creeping in. I would come off the jump, pull back up to under the roof then go to the top. It was right there to be done. The one move! Each time I got into the roof I learnt a tiny bit more about the move though, and I was stacking the odds more and more in my favour.

On my fourth day this season I had a good warm up and felt really happy in my mind and body. It was one of those days where everything feels light and rainbowy. There was a really nice bunch of psyched people at the cliff all trying hard. Most of us had also bought our contribution to Elphinstone’s weekly biscuit potluck. The biscuit game was strong this day!

I tied in for my first burn and arrived under the roof feeling fresh and totally ready to give it some curry. I set up well, threw everything across the roof and latched the right-hand. Wow, I was hanging on! My legs started swinging around wildly and then my left hand blew from the vertical pod. I held the right-hand as tight as I could but there were far too many forces going in every other direction to hold on any longer. Because the right hand stayed on for a moment longer than everything else it made for a rather awkward fall. I spun and twisted through the air, emptying my lungs by way of loud expletives and when that lung-full was gone I let go of another two lung-fulls of noise. DAMN IT!! That was close! Since day one this season I knew this route was going to go quick but now I knew when. Next go I was sticking that move!

The fall left a good rope burn on my right bicep and took a rather deep chunk of skin off on my right-hand pinky finger. There was quite a bit of blood. At least I knew I held on tight. I taped up, ate some biscuits, drank some water and got ready for another burn.

I got back up to the rest under the roof again and felt good. A quick shake, chalk and go! I set up and looked straight at the right-hand hold. I drove through my legs and threw my chest and hips up into the roof towards the hold. My hand went in and my legs started to swing around again. I squeezed the two hands together and tightened my core to slow the swing. I had stuck the jump! As I controlled myself I took a breath and swung my left foot out to the ramp, missed. My legs swung back around and I squeezed everything to get control. That’s okay, I thought, sometimes you miss the foot, just swing it out there again. I missed again. Then had a third swipe at the foot and missed again. I could feel the strength draining quickly from my arms and core. Come on dude! Don’t blow it now! Take a breath. I swung up with my right foot and landed it, brought my left up to meet the right and did the next few moves around the lip. I took a minute to settle and try to get something back.

The next section felt better than it ever had. I felt solid on every move and hit each hold perfectly. Now I was under the final bulge at the best rest on the route. It would be a stonker rest on any route. Big jug break and big rampy feet. I suddenly realised I was quite pumped but that the route was there for the taking. I went through my usual rest routine of controlling my breath and heart rate, and tried to get some fresh blood back in my arms. After a few minutes my recovery stagnated at a 6.5/10 pump. There was nothing more to be gained. I wanted to feel better as the next sequence isn’t exactly hard but it is certainly pretty droppable. I did not want to drop it! Maybe I’ll rest a little longer.

A couple of minutes later there was still nothing happening in my arms. I was just hanging there, avoiding what I needed to do. I felt nervous – redpoint nerves are the worst. I gave myself a countdown from 30 to leave the rest. 30, 29, 28, 27, 2…. ‘This is ridiculous dude, just climb!’ I climbed, nailed each move, over-gripped a tad just to be sure, reached down, grabbed a fistful of rope and clipped the anchor. It felt good.

It took four days this year and I fell seven times on the jump move. I feel like there was a lot left in the tank after this one. I haven’t been doing much, if any, training recently, and I know there are some gains to make there. I’m really motivated to keep the feeling going and push myself further. I’ve gained a lot of confidence and belief from doing this route.

Tom Oh ain't no pig but he’s about to be dangling on the end of the rope.

Tom Oh ain’t no pig but he’s about to be dangling on the end of the rope.

You’ve now climbed three of the four 35s in Oz (four of the five if you give the Wheel of Life a route grade), which leads us to the obvious questions, which is the fairest of them all? And which one is the hardest?

I’m not sure where they all sit on the spectrum of hard. Each gave me troubles in different ways. Bakers Dozen felt hard as it was a hard sequence to nail and it was a first ascent. There is a lot to deal with in doing a FA at your limit and at the time it was harder than I had ever worked for a route. I had a similar experience climbing Kitten Mittens. I had a lot of confidence going into that season, but it was still a hard thing to climb and took a lot out of me.

With Schweinebaumeln I spent a bunch of days on it but always in fairly average conditions and never with the redpoint mindset. I flicked into redpoint zone this season and did it very quickly, which was cool. So it almost feels easier than the others, but I know it’s probably quite hard.

They all represent different periods in my climbing and gave me hard times in different ways and I feel like my climbing has progressed a long way in the last couple of years. I imagine the ones at Elphinstone will see a repeat before the others. Location, location, location, as they say. When it’s in-season it’s not hard to find psyched people to hang with down there. Last Thursday there were eight people at the crag, which is a lot for a casual mid-week session. Psyched buddies are key for climbing your best!

Regarding The Wheel, it’s a boulder problem not a route, therefore it should have a boulder grade. Not that a grade could ever really sums up that piece of climbing. It will always and forever be The Wheel of Life.

We saw that you drew a line through Schweinebaumeln on your little post-it-note ticklist, for those not on Instagram what routes are left on the list?

Hump of Trouble – The mega underworld project. That is the big focus come next autumn/winter. I was close this past winter/spring and I’m really psyched to climb it. I have put so much time into trying to learn the moves and climb it. Conservatively I think I’m 50-days deep on it. More than any other route by a looong way! I think it’ll be 36.

The Red Project – The last established 35 left for me to do. And the first one climbed in Australia.

Low Down Dirty Dog Project – I tried this a bunch in 2014 or so and got some good links but just never got back. My knee tweaked out and I got psyched on other things. I’m psyched to make it happen next year. I think it’ll be about 35 as well.

I have pictures of Biographie above the list stuck to the fridge. That’s a must do in the next couple of years!

There a bunch of other things I really want to do, but those routes are the first I’d go to if you gave me a day to climb. I might need to write another list!

Climbing hard ground above the overhang crux.

Climbing hard ground above the overhang crux.

Can you tell us about the remaining 35 you have yet to tick, the Red Project?

It’s the first route I tried of that grade, although it hadn’t been climbed at that stage. It’s a very cool piece of climbing. It’s super technical and requires you to climb extremely well. Unless you have otherworldly strength like Megos, you can’t just pull yourself up it. Lee Cossey and I have spent so much time on it, sussing out the finest of finer details to try and unlock success.

The tricky thing with The Red Project is the conditions. There is so little margin at the crux that you need everything to be blowing in your favour. If it’s not, the route can feel 30% harder. Finding the days in the short season window where your physical condition and the weather line up is difficult. For this reason it may be the hardest of the existing 35s to repeat. But I am very, very psyched to make it happen in 2019! I want to lay that one to rest and I’m 100% certain Lee does as well.

We’ve always been a bit mystified by the name Schweinebaumeln, can you tell us what it signifies?

It translates to Dangle Pig. Let’s call it a good piece of German humour.

Most people have a child and get worse at climbing, you’ve had a child and gotten better – what’s the deal there?

A few thoughts come to mind.

Amanda is the best partner. We both understand our need to climb and the level of commitment in time and emotion we want to put in. We have set our life up around climbing, taking away as many barriers as we can to training or crag days. Have a fingerboard and TRX setup at home and suddenly your access to training is much closer. And cut the time-wasting junk stuff out of your life.

I do my best to make every moment count. Having Audrey has made me very protective of my time. I don’t get to freewheel at the crag so I make my crag days count! It’s the same for training. I was never much for training a few years ago but I have a real firecracker up there with it these days. I want to get the most out of every day at the cliff and training allows that to happen! I watch how complacent non-parents are with their climbing and want to give them a slap and shout, ‘You have no idea how much time you have! Stop wasting it!!’

I make sure I make every moment with Audrey count. When I’m at the cliff I miss her a lot. Days at the crag can be long and I miss playing the fun little games with her and having chats while we do domestic chores. When I have spent good time with her before heading out to the cliff I don’t feel as guilty about being there, which lets me be fully present and sneak one last lap in before heading home.

I also think having Audrey when I was young was a blessing. I didn’t have a child thrown into my life after 10 or 15 years of a lifestyle of leisure. That would be a big adjustment. At 25 I have spent more of my adult life being a father than not, so it’s just what I’m used to and know. I’d be lost without her at this point!

Technical climbing on the lower part of the route.

Technical climbing on the lower part of the route.

Are there any more hard projects left at Elphinstone?

Pretty much all the independent lines have been bolted and climbed. The future will be link-ups and bolting variant finishes or starts. There’s a cool link up I want to do that would take in quite a few of the hard classic sequences. It will be a forearm exploder and land somewhere around 35.

You’ve continued to climb bloody hard for the last few years but what do you think you need to work on in order to climb bloody, bloody hard? Do you have to work a weakness – and if so what do you think your weaknesses are – or do you just need to siege The Next Level route into submission?

In past years I just climbed a lot and naturally got better. I have definitely pulled my finger out with training in the last two years, though, and I have seen some good improvement. Among many others, a big weakness is completing my training sessions. I’ll come up with a plan and get set to do it for the next few weeks then get distracted with work or sunny days at the cliff. I’ll have planned something like 20 sessions over a four to six week period and only do about seven of them. I really want to get my strike rate up. It’ll be easier to do this now I’ve done my main goal for the year. I don’t need to save any juice for redpoint days and can just go full gas on training.

I’m going to be trying to up my power and strength, which are relatively weak compared to my fitness. Especially power! I’ve made a goal to do five V13 or harder problems next year. I think the skills and strengths I’ll gain from doing some hard bouldering will make a big impact on my sport climbing.

Your partner Amanda is a bloody good nutritionist and we reckon this might give you an under-appreciated edge in terms of performance and recovery, what influence and role does this play?

Under valuing your nutrition makes as much sense as dropping bricks on your hands.

Amanda has helped me A LOT! She’s taught me a pretty great base level of knowledge in nutrition that I can apply myself. I also get to ask her all the questions of what to eat, when to eat it and why. This is great for training, redpoints, comps and day-to-day life. She also keeps me on the straight and narrow around all the red herring fad diets that pop up. If I didn’t know what I knew from her, it would be easy to get caught in the whirlpool of nonsense. I know I wouldn’t have climbed the things I have if it weren’t for her help.

Tom is an awesome voice in Australian climbing, to hear more from him check out his podcast, Baffle Days.

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