VVV - Viral Vixen Video

Yes, it's been super quiet here at the Upskill blog. I actually never posted in 2014. Is that bad?

On a positive note, I have been doing heaps of climbing. The 2013 and 2014 seasons are some of the most fun climbing I've had in the SE Queensland region, ever. You know I love new routing. For those two years, all my energy outside work was funneled into developing three major new cliffs in the Urbenville region of northern NSW: Vesuvius, Spot X and Crossroads

Between the three crags, we established 71 routes. 20+ of these were over 40m in length. It was epic.

All this action is a mere two hour drive from Brisbane. I put lots of k's on the car. But so, so worth it. All info for all three crags is now available on theCrag.com, and the season is just starting. If you live in Brisbane, 2015 could be your Urbenville year. It's the Catalunya of Queensland.

I capped off both prolific seasons with a 31/8b first ascent. The second of these was Vixen. I was really pleased to vision, and then eventually climb this extremely overhanging, blank looking wall. The movement on it is super good - one of the most fun routes I've done. Erik filmed on it using his ingenious RopeClimber camera, and EpicTV ended up picking up the video. 200,000+ views later, and lots of people have now seen Spot X, even if they'll never climb there.

For some reason, there's a guy called Daniel Woods at the start of the video. You won't want to watch him, so just skip to 3:20 :)

Climbing Anchors - The ideal sport route lower-off?

Looking for the ideal sport route lower-off configuration is like a quest for the holy grail. There are so many different setups and configurations, and generally, they all generally have some advantages and disadvantages.

Let's look at a few different configurations for pro's and con's.

A custom chain setup.
Visual impact: Bad. This is a pretty visually obtrusive anchor.
Expense: Bad. High cost due to number of components.  
Rope-twist factor: Good. Low.  
Lifespan: Good. Where the rope touches are rings which spin, spreading the wear.  
Replace-ability: Good. Mallions attach the chains.  
Convenience: Bad (no clip and lower).  
Single clip safety: Bad. Ideally you want to clip to the anchor and be immediately attached to two bolts.

Horizontal Fixe rings - quite common setup.
Visual impact: Good. No chain involved, so pretty low impact.  
Expense: Not bad.  
Rope-twist factor: Not great. Even if this was threaded correctly (not like the photo) this configuration does twist the rope.  
Lifespan: Good. Where the rope touches are rings which spin, spreading the wear.  
Replace-ability: Good. Tru-bolts have been used (the only time I recommend their use!) to enable the anchors to be removed and replaced.  
Convenience: Bad (no clip and lower).  
Single clip safety: Bad. Ideally you want to clip to the anchor and be immediately attached to two bolts.

Commercial Fixe anchor set. Very common.

Visual impact: Moderate.
Expense: Moderately expensive.
Rope-twist factor: Good. Single ring sits perpendicular to the wall. No rope twist.

Lifespan: Good. The rope wears the ring, which can spin and spread the wear.  
Replace-ability: Not great, as you have to replace the entire anchor, or chop the ring and install an alternative.
Convenience: Bad (no clip and lower).  
Single clip safety: Good - you're always on two bolts. This makes for a good multipitch anchor, and quite a good sport route lower-off, if somewhat inconvenient.

Commercial unit from 'Raumer'
Visual impact: Not great. It's a pretty big beast. The double-chain version of this is even more obtrusive.  
Expense: Reasonably expensive as this is a commercial product.  
Rope-twist factor: Good. Lowering off a single point minimises rope twist.
Lifespan: Bad. In high-traffic areas, this thick stainless carabiner will be worn through in a year or two (see right).  
Replace-ability: Bad. When the carabiner is worn out, it's quite a job to chop it off with a grinder. This leaves a spinning ring which you can lower off, or put another captive steel carabiner with a mallion. The other option is to replace the entire unit with an identical unit.
Convenience: Good. Clip and lower, baby!
Single clip safety: Good. You can clip anything and you're attached to two bolts.

Two naked glue-in rings.
Wear on ugly U-bolt. Bad!
Visual impact: Good. About as low-impact as you can get.
Expense: Good. Pretty cheap.
Rope-twist factor: Not great. This configuration does twist the rope.
Lifespan: Bad. Rope-wear will wear these bolts out (see right). This anchor can be good for very low traffic routes, but as soon as wear is noticed, install some mallions and chain.
Replace-ability: Bad. Once these wear out you have to heat them with a blowtorch to melt the glue and then extract. It's pretty full-on! Lazy people would chop them but this is messy at best.
Convenience: Bad (no clip and lower).
Single clip safety: Bad. Ideally you want to clip to the anchor and be immediately attached to two bolts.

Fixe ring and chain combo.
Visual impact: Moderate. Chain always stands out, but at least this is only one length.  
Expense: Moderate. There are a few components here. Cheaper than most commercial setups though.
Rope-twist factor: Good. Placed in this configuration, the thread point acts as one. Minimal twist.
Lifespan: Good. The ring will spin. The chain is easily replaced.
Replace-ability: Good. All wearable components are easily replaced.  
Convenience: Not great (no clip and lower) but at least you have plenty of clip points.
Single clip safety: Bad. Ideally you want to clip to the anchor and be immediately attached to two bolts.

Glue-in rings with twist-shackles for "replace-ability"
For a while, climbers started to use twist shackles because they would not twist the rope and you could replace the components that wear. Seems like an ideal solution, right?  
Why this is not good: The shackles can flip around so the rope is running over the pin of the shackle. This can undo the shackle (!!). People have tried to overcome this by "mousing" the shackles in position using wire or cable ties, but ultimately, this turns into a mess. Avoid twist shackles.

"Mussy hook" lower-off. Gaining popularity in America.
This setup ticks a lot of boxes but has some drawbacks.
Visual impact: Moderate. They're very beefy, no doubt.
Expense: Good. These mussy hooks are supposed to be quite inexpensive (available in large hardware stores like Home Depot). Beware however cast versions of these - probably from China, and strength unknown.
Rope-twist factor: Could be a big problem unless they can sit off the rock. Mike Law says "I lowered off a lot of Muzzy hooks in Owens River Gorge and they destroyed ropes by twisting, I think the fat ones have a thick spine and sit so far off the wall that rope tension pulls them over at about 45 degrees, towards each other."
Lifespan: Good. The mussy hooks have a huge rope-bearing surface and are very thick so they'll take a long time to wear to about halfway where they can be replaced.
Replace-ability: Good. The hooks are easily replaceable via the mallions.
Great! Clip and lower!
Single clip safety: Bad. Ideally you want to clip to the anchor and be immediately attached to two bolts. 

Rotating rings, replaceable!

Visual impact: Moderate. They're very beefy, no doubt.
Expense: Moderately expensive. But everything here will last for a very long time, and will be easy to replace.
Rope-twist factor: Not as good as a single point, but not bad.
Lifespan: Superb. For starters, everything is 316 stainless, and the glue is Hilti RE-500, the best there is. The rings freely rotate, and when and if they need replacing, this is easily achieved via the mallions.
Replace-ability: Super.
Single clip safety: Ordinarily I would rate this "bad" but in this case, I give it a "good" based on the fact it's a stainless glue-in with the world's best glue, in granite. You're good. 

As you can see there is no "right answer" when it comes to sport-route anchors, but there are materials and techniques that are nearly always more appropriate than others. Route developers should always be thinking "When this anchor is worn, how easy is it to replace?"

Further reading:
To learn even more about bolting, read my 2013 updated article "How to bolt rock climbs, and how not to"

Kalbarri - It's Gold!

It was 1994 and I was finishing school when I first started climbing. Soon after, every request for birthday or Christmas presents was for anything climbing related. Invariably, a favourite gift was the 'Simon Carter Calendar' for that particular year. In the first one I ever had, there was a picture of a girl. A girl climbing an orange, overhanging arete. The route was called Rattler and was in a place I'd never heard of called Kalbarri in remote Western Australia. The route was grade 22 which was inconceivable at the time, but I cut out the image and put it on my wall in my university dorm and vowed I would one day go to Kalbarri to climb Rattler.

Fast forward a mere 19 years. Hectic work schedule. A long weekend possibility? A few hasty emails. Book flights. Book hire car. The team was set: the QLD squadron of JJ O'Brien, myself and Sam, and the NSW ranks of the Carter company: Simon, Monique and Coco.

Google says 51 hours by car. Perhaps we'll fly to Perth?
Now, some say that Perth is the world's second most remote capital city. It's a really long way from anywhere. Kalbarri is about six to seven hours north of Perth by car. So yep, it's a mission. In fact, I had never before been to Western Australia, so this would be pretty exciting.

On top of that, immediately before flying out, we got word that the road in to the climbing area was closed for roadworks and would stay that way for 17 weeks. Noooo! Much negotiating with the local Ranger by Simon managed to secure us a way in, but not on the road.

The way in. This is early and the sand is still damp from the dew. This is good.
When the sand is white, and dry, and you're not in a Land Cruiser - you are scared!
The head ranger in his jacked up Land Cruiser looked very skeptical at our hire cars: Nissan X-Trail and Toyota Rav-4. After being read the riot act and letting our tyres down - a LOT - we left the bitumen and turned onto a very scary fire trail composed 100% of sand. I won't go in to the driving too much, suffice it to say that I have no idea how we didn't get bogged multiple times, and we took our soft-roaders to the limits of their abilities.

First view of the gorge and I am stoked!
We're on the walk-in and Coco leads the way.
One of the first climbs I saw as we walked in was Rattler. It was much smaller than I imagined! Over all the years this route had grown to epic proportions in my mind. I dumped my pack, racked up and soundly ticked it. It felt good.

Sam ticks Rattler (22)
I'd heard of the area "The Promenade" which was the home to steep hard sport climbing in Kalbarri. This small but perfectly formed sector was developed by a core group of WA locals like Chris Jones and Gerhard Chipper (yes, that's his real name!) in the early-mid 90s and in some ways was ahead of its time, certainly in Western Australia. The wall varies from slightly steep on the right end to something like 60 degrees overhanging on the left and has 9 routes and a linkup between 24 and 29.

Check out The Promenade on theCrag.com
As it turns out, we had a mere two and a half days to climb, and we simply went to work on this wall. I was lucky enough to get the two hardest routes (Glass Slipper 29 and Homophobia 28) done fairly early, so I decided the mission was to tick the wall! I worked my way down in difficulty as I got more and more tired, and I can tell you my hardest ticks were the easiest graded routes on that last day. We had to leave at a certain time to be able to make our plane and the only way I could meet my objective was to climb the last three routes back to back with basically no rest. I was wailing on the final 24, especially when I discovered its top bolts were missing.

Anyway, I somehow made it and got it done:
  • Glass Slipper 29 - 2nd shot
  • Homophobia 28 - 2nd shot
  • Bustin' Down The Door 27 - 2nd shot
  • Root Canal 26/7 - flash
  • She Magic 26 - flash
  • Super Funky 25 - 2nd shot
  • Fuck The Law 25 - 3rd shot!
  • Heavy Petting 25 (maybe 23/4?) - onsight
  • It's A Boy 24 - onsight
This cut-loose and clip sequence was on the flash of Root Canal 26/7.
Hope this doesn't induce seizures or vomiting.

What really stuck me about Kalbarri was the rock. I loved the perfect, clean rock shelves to belay from. No need for rope bags here. I loved the different textures in the rock, and the deep rich oranges. This is ancient, ancient sandstone - over 300 million years old. The sun was blazing but we were cool in the shade.

Rock texture instagram
Here's a few final pics to help me remember what a great micro-trip this was...
Discovering the rock on Crankshaft 24
Sam on Obscene Gesture 18
I think this one was Bustin' Down The Door 27
Chilling on the diving board finish of Glass Ceiling 29. So good.
My man JJ put in every last ounce of juice and finished off Root Canal at the death.

Nearly all pics here are from JJ (http://jjobrienclimbing.blogspot.com). No doubt we'll see a few pearlers come through the Onsight Photography media house at some point too.

I felt so happy and at peace here. If you have the chance to go - do!

Queensland Climbing feature in R&I's Ascent Magazine 2013

Kaly cover shot. Not
SEQ, but still nice :)
Wow! I was amazed when issue #210 of my R&I subscription arrived and I discovered that there was a Queensland climbing photo-feature article "The Wild Walls Down Under". R&I has a circulation of 30,000 and is one of the most recognisable climbing magazines in the world.

Simon Carter's photo article really showcases some of the variety our region offers, which is now being admired worldwide.

Stoked to see some of my first ascents as well as my best mates John J O'Brien and Duncan Steel up in lights.

A couple of my Glasshouse first ascents. Pitiless (left) remains Glasshouses' hardest, while Stainless (Anti)climb is historic, being the first time these aid pitches have been freed.

Duncan cranking our hard trad at Frog Buttress.

Sabina (left) scored the cover of Simon and my guidebook to the region with this ascent of Aphelion 22 on Tibro, while Alex Straw (right) is hanging upside down on the top of my unrepeated route Bite The Hand That Feeds 31, which the project Taking Care of Business joins at Mt Coolum.

JJ O'Brien climbing the route we established Black Leather Dungarees 26, Mt Coolum. And a picture of a grater.

Video: Frederick Peak

Townsville, located in North Queensland strikes fear into the hearts of hipsters and the trendy southern yuppie, but it holds a special place in my heart as I began my climbing career in Townsville while at University.

The most well-known crag Mount Stuart occupied most of my time, and though Frederick Peak was visible to the north west of the city, gates and 4WD access kept it out of my cross-hairs. Another 10 years, and these minor inconveniences have been overcome, and a new generation of climbers have been blessed with a greenfields playground for establishing new routes in almost every style.

It's true, the remote location and slightly tricky access will ensure this crag never be crowded, but for the climbers of the region, Frederick Peak is a major drawcard. Based on number of routes, uniqueness and quality, it's probably Australia's most significant new crag "discovery" in the last 10 years.

I've been back a couple of times (read about the first here), hosted by the Three Monkeys, who are a triple-barbed missile of bad heavy-metal music and new routing enthusiasm. On both trips I was able to put up some great routes, and repeat some great routes too.

On the last trip, we also teamed up with the indomitable Gareth Llewellin who was keen to use his new camera to capture some pics and video. The video he put together was an introduction to the area, and contains a rather lengthy and somewhat embarrassing monologue by me. This was featured in Vertical Life magazine issue 4. Scroll down for the video, and grab issue #4 of Vertical Life while you're at it. Good stuff, and free. How do they do it?

Download PDF of issue 4

Profiled on the Vertical Life site
Me repeating Monty's terrific 'White Gold' extension 27, Frederick Peak (c) Gareth Llewellin

Climbing in Townsville - Winter 2012 from Gareth Llewellin on Vimeo.

And if that's got you Frederick-frothing, check out the guidebook:
Download PDF

Video: Climb Perpendicular

New video from our Easter roadtrip to Point Perpendicular, Australia's best known sandstone seacliff. Something different in this video was our use of a flying drone to capture a unique perspective on these amazing cliffs. Enjoy.

Climb Perpendicular from Upskill Climbing on Vimeo.

I love Kalymnos, and I care about the future of climbing on the island. I wrote this paper in 2010 and submitted it for consideration by some of the key climbers and rebolters on Kalymnos, and I was keen for the Municipality to see it also. With news of the upcoming "bolting festival" in October-November 2013, I now publish the paper as an "open letter" to any and all interested parties.

An analysis of climbing on the island of Kalymnos with respect to new routes, the safety of fixed hardware, and route maintenance now and in the future.

Lee Cujes, 2 June 2010

"Since then, approximately 100 routes were maintained every 1-2 years (replacing corroded bolts and lower-offs). This is certainly not as frequent as we would like, and the number of routes being maintained each time is very limited compared to the grand total of routes on Kalymnos"
-- Aris Theodoropolous, Guidebook author and Kalymnos route developer

Issue: Route volume and quality

The number of new routes being established per year on Kalymnos is not decreasing. We have ~2300+ routes on Kalymnos already, with more every year. As more of the available rock is developed, we would expect to see (and encourage) fewer routes being established each year. It is important to encourage quality rather than quantity, as poor quality routes decrease the overall quality of Kalymnos climbing. Furthermore, doubling the number of routes on the island will not double the number of climbers, nor will it double revenue for the island. Nor will it even spread the impact of climbing – 90% of climbers into the future will continue to climb at only the major existing sectors, as it is these sectors which offer the highest quality climbing.

  1. Withdraw Municipality funding for new routes [edit: it is my understanding that this has happened some years ago, however corporate sponsorship of foreign route developers continues]. This was useful in the birth phase of Kalymnos climbing as it encouraged rapid development, but we are beyond this phase now. 
  2. Channel funds from all existing bolt funds that may exist on the island (example - Glaros) into rebolting, rather than new routing (ensuring climbers who donate know what they are donating for). As elsewhere in the world, motivated new routers will fund their own routes. We should see the number of new routes decrease to a more sensible level, and the quality of routes maintaining a high standard.
Hardware Issue #1: Corrosion of hardware on fixed routes

Bolts are not permanent. Especially on limestone and near the sea, we see significant corrosion within just a couple of years. This is also true in areas where the water transfer through the rock is high (i.e. anywhere with tufas e.g. Grande Grotta, Ghost Kitchen etc.) It is vital that routes are inspected and rebolted as required.

Figure 1: Unsafe, corroded anchor at Ghost Kitchen
Figure 2: Corrosion can also occur because of two 
dissimilar metals as shown here on a relatively
new route on the Vathy road sector

Figure 3: Climbers are too afraid to trust this
corroded anchor on Ghost Kitchen. They tie their
own slings and carabiner as backup

Hardware Issue #2: Wear of hardware on fixed routes
  1. Anchors in certain areas receive a lot of wear (the rope wears and cuts into the metal) and need to be replaced regularly, in some cases every year. There has recently been some analysis from Black Diamond showing how worn carabiners can cut rope.
  2. Bolts that are repeatedly fallen on can loosen in the hole and deform, especially in softer or more 'active' limestone. This can lead to failure of the bolt.
Figure 4: Dangerously worn lower-off anchor.
    Hardware Issue #3: Bolt choice

    The trubolt is the most typical bolt used on most Kalymnos routes. However, it is not the best choice.

    Figure 4: Trubolt
    1. Easy and quick to place
    2. Can be used immediately (important for equipping steep routes)
    1. Cannot be extracted from the hole to allow for clean replacement. Must be cut off using a cordless grinder and then beaten back into hole and the hole patched with epoxy and camouflaged.
    2. Because the thread sits exposed from the nut, it can foul the carabiner leading to dangerous orientation of the carabiner. There are cases where this has led to a carabiner snapping.
    3. Sideways forces on the hanger cause the nut to loosen. If the nut loosens completely, the hanger falls off and the climber has no protection. This happened to me recently during a fall. I was very lucky to escape injury. Many routes are missing hangers due to this issue.


    Figure 5: Titanium glue-in bolt.
    The best long-term solution. 

    To purchase these, visit:
    1. Corrosion
    Option 1 (mandatory): Continual assessment and rebolting with high grade (316) stainless steel as required. "316 L" is the low carbon version of 316 stainless steel and has been found to have even better corrosion resistance. Hardware is available in 316 L.

    Option 2 (possible): Thailand climbing areas have moved to titanium glue-in bolts and Hilti RE-500 epoxy glue for maximum corrosion resistance and longevity. It is suggested Kalymnos also obtain these (more expensive) bolts for use on the most corrosive sectors.

    2. Wear

    Figure 6: An anchor is replaced,
    leaving bolt remains and
    ugly scars on the rock.
    This is unnecessary, yet
    this kind of damage is
    There are several options for anchors which are replaceable without having to install a completely new anchor in a new position (this is a horrible worst case scenario, yet is the most common form here currently on Kalymnos). Glue-in threaded rod allows the same bolts to be re-used. Quickclips attached with mallions allow for the wearing component only to be replaced. The more the type of anchor set on the island is standardised, the easier ongoing replacement will become.

    3. Bolt choice
    For new routes, discontinue using trubolts. Instead, use 12mm x 75mm flush-head dynabolts of the following configuration:

    Figure 7: 12mm Flush-head dynabolt - a better choice than trubolts.

    Flush-heads offer all the advantages of the trubolt, and eliminate many of the disadvantages. They are replaceable, they have a low profile and do not snag carabiners as readily, and they do not loosen as easily as trubolts.

    Issue: Maintenance and rebolting

    Kalymnos has a reputation as a haven of ‘safe bolting’. This is important to many climbers who come here and is a reputation worth protecting.

    Rebolting is happening on the island, however the following issues have been identified:
    1. The poor quality of some of the rebolting work
    2. The fact that trubolts are being replaced with more trubolts, instead of taking the opportunity to upgrade to the best, highest-longevity solution (glue-in ringbolts)
    3. The fact that there is not enough rebolting occurring to keep up with the wear and corrosion on the ever-increasing number of routes on the island. The generally thankless task of rebolting is left to just a few motivated individuals.
    Figure 8: Seven holes drilled and not patched.
    Poets sector.
    Figure 9: Too often this is the case (we see this
    at every sector). Because trubolts cannot be
    extracted, they are left to rust. This is unsightly
    and simply lazy.

    1. Quality:
    For Kalymnos to retain its reputation and natural beauty, it is inappropriate to allow sub-standard rebolting. Trubolts must be cut, recessed and patched. Old anchors need to be removed in full. Any scars on the rock must be camoflauged. We must strive for all routes to be as perfect as they can be.

    2. Phasing out trubolts:
    We must rebolt with superior hardware. Therefore we must move to glue-in bolts. These are preferred by all climbers because they are stronger, safer, do not notch climbers’ carabiners, and allow for rope to be directly threaded to allow for retreat from any point on the route if required. They do require more skill to place, but most importantly, they will last much longer in this environment than any form of expansion bolt. In this seaside environment, a minimum specification of 316 or 316 L stainless steel should be mandated, with titanium preferred as the best possible option (see: Thailand titanium rebolting article).

    Figure 10: 316 stainless glue-in ringbolt, correctly recessed.
    3. Establishment of a centralised hub for bolting/rebolting
    1. Online and offline method for climbers to report “bad bolts/routes” for inspection.
    2. Online “to-do” list with routes and sectors scheduled for rebolting/maintenance.
    3. Online and offline methods for visiting climbers to donate money to the rebolting initiative. If even a small fraction of the money entering the Kalymnian economy by climbers went towards rebolting, this would ensure the initiative could be appropriately funded.
    4. Online database of rebolted routes to show how the money is being spent, exactly what hardware is used etc. (Example of such a database)
      4. Dedicated focus on ongoing maintenance and rebolting
      One or more rebolting specialists must be engaged by the Municipality (or corporate sponsors) to conduct the required work every year, on an ongoing basis. The Municipality has spent a great deal of money establishing Kalymnos as one of the world’s premier climbing destinations (by investing in new routes), however we must continue to maintain and protect that investment in the long term. This requires an ongoing financial commitment.


      I would like to offer thanks and gratitude to those climbers such as Aris Theodoropolous and Simon Montmory who have contributed serious time and effort to rebolting on Kalymnos. This article is not a criticism, rather a call to action.

      I believe a combination of both local commitment (Municipality), corporate commitment (sponsored initiatives) and commitment from climbers themselves (via donations) will provide the assistance necessary to fund the recommendations in this article.

      As the world's premier sport climbing destination, Kalymnos deserves ongoing care and ongoing investment.

      Other resources: