Lee's Manifesto for Progressing Oz Climbing! (or 'Why Southerners Are So Strong!')

Based on some qurank discussions on ego and new routing, I've worked on this little comment piece over the last couple of weeks as the ideas have rolled around in my brain. See what you think...

If you read the news in CRUX or ROCK magazine and it always seems that the crew from NSW are cranking so much harder than the rest of the country -- well, you aren't imagining it! The graph below tells the story...

New South Wales currently has six times the amount of hard routes than Queensland, and is less than half the size! One surprise was that Tassie beats out Queensland, which is largely attributable to the recent(ish) development of the amazing Star Factory.

One immutable climbing law is "hard begets harder". The more hard routes there are, the more likely people will get on them, get stronger and get inspired. As this happens, they get keen to put up their own routes, climb even harder, and the whole thing snowballs.

On the other side of the coin, if the hard routes aren't there to climb, it's a lot more difficult for the standard of the climbing community to progress - it's like a glass ceiling. To get an appreciation of what 'harder' feels like they have no option but to travel (and it's hard to do hard routes on a trip due to the time factor) or establish new routes (perhaps less than 5% of climbers actually establish new routes). There's also some pressure (whether conscious or implied) on the new router to not grade a route higher than what already exists in the local area.

Remove the glass ceiling. Help each State have equal opportunity to 'compete' in the difficulty stakes.


  1. Establish hard routes
    People often only bolt what they think they can climb. Instead, use the European Model and if the line is good but ridiculously hard, establish it anyway and leave it as an open project. It will get done eventually and be a source of inspiration. Also, don't assume that all new hard routes are going to be completely amazing, independent King Lines. Seek out difficulty. Examine where it may be possible to link up cruxes of several side-by-side routes. Or climb up part of an existing line, then bust out into brave new territory. For example, let's look at the hardest routes in Oz (all 8c+ or 34) -- Mechanical Animals is squeezed between two existing routes, Sneaky Old Fox is a link-up and White Ladder is an extension.

  2. Kudos to the equipper
    To facilitate the establishment of more hard routes, we need to start giving credit to the equipper of routes in our guidebooks, topos, and news reports. The equipper had the vision and deserves as much or more credit than the person who does the first ascent.

  3. Open projects
    New projects are a source of inspiration and motivation for the climber who equips and tries to send them. We should all respect 'closed projects' that are being actively worked on. However, if you honestly have no realistic shot in a season or so of completing some beast of a new line, just leave it open for anyone to try. It helps the whole community a hell of a lot more to have people getting on and climbing at a high level, regardless of who eventually sends it.

  4. Online register of open projects
    We need an easy online listing of open super projects. This will provide some nice motivation for climbers to travel and send. An obvious place for this to live is the Australian Climbers Association website.

  5. Welcome cross-pollination
    Invite out-of-state hardmen and hardwomen to your state (and if you're a hardperson - travel!). Host them and guide them around. Suggest the hardest routes and open projects for them to try. This serves several purposes. It helps to validate and bed down the grades at local areas, and the crushers can either establish other hard lines, or suggest new routes and link-ups that could be done by locals. A fresh pair of eyes often have the clearest vision.
As always I invite any and all comments.

Lee Cujes


Neil Monteith said...

Great ideas! I wouldn't be surprised is there isn't another 100+ routes harder than 27 in NSW, considering how many secret and local only crags there are around here. There are new 28s popping up every week.

Lee said...

To be honest there probably are! It's hard to be too accurate with the stats when you have to rely on published or online database sources. But even with this somewhat sketchy data - you can get an idea of the disparity between the states.

Fabian said...

I would simply put it down to the amount of rock in Qld. NSW has the blueys on the doorstep of the biggest city in Australia. Qld just doesn't have the size and breadth of those easily accessible rocks. The harder climbs here are put up where ever they can be squeezed in. You walk past virgin rock in the blueys that people here would have bolted long ago, but there there's better rock just around the corner.

So more sheer quantity of rock means more options, thus people more likely to develop areas and put up harder routes.

JJ said...

Nice article Mojo, but a grade is a speculative thing, if the new router or local climbers haven't traveled enough or the route hasn't had enough repeats then grading is hard. I disagree about the grading pressures you have mentioned.

I think the grading should come from the group/community consensus? The developer proposes a grade, but it really is only a proposal, the masses determine the real grade. If it gets down graded, so be it, if it goes up so be it.
Some developers take a conservative view and maybe undergrade, perhaps due to inexperiance, ego or strength, whilst some developers over grade, perhaps for egotistical reasons or their scorecards? Maybe some just don't know, after all it is only a grade proposal.

You could have 2 routes side by side one is resistance, one is a boulder, but yet they are the same grade. Just different styles, but one route may suit one person more than another, that's why the masses should ultimately determine the grade.

The rock is going to be the limiting factor regarding grades and numbers of harder routes, perhaps NSW just has more keen developers who climb at a harder level, plus a more suitable climate for year round climbing, who knows?

I think that open projects will only work when local councils provide the hardware to equip the climbs, maybe! Who wants to put in all the work lugging in equipment, cleaning the climb, drilling/glueing etc for someone else to do? Not me.
Imagine the Kudos for putting up a sweet line, yeah it would be good, imagine the flip side where everyone you know is bagging you out for your shitty bolting job, because you didnt have the vision to know what you could actually hold to clip off, because you cant climb that hard. More strength/skills brings a different set of eyes on what is actually possible.

Now there is the equipping cost for these open projects, hardware, transport, time.
In this modern age we are all time poor, so why would anyone in this situation equip a route for some random?
Sometimes peoples eyes are bigger than their bellies, but perhaps a closer rap inspection might be a good thing, or a couple of dogging bolts to see if it will really go (for your given ability).

Jason Piper has had a set of 'visionary' glasses for years and is now finally getting around to sending some of his old projects that he bolted many many years ago.

I think we need to travel and experience many types of rock and many styles of climbing, you are always the King of your own domain, but go and play in someone elses yard and see what happens.

Just my 2c


Lee said...

Loving the comments guys! Thought I would respond to some of them from my perspective, as it relates to my original post.

The masses should determine the grade
Hmm, my post wasn't really about the grading process - but we (climbers) love to talk about it! You're probably right, but in reality this doesn't happen, and the reason is that elite-level routes don't get masses of ascents. They might get a couple of ascents a year. And have you noticed that the grade usually sets like hard concrete after the second or third ascent? Websites like 8a may offer a solution if everyone suggests a route as either 'soft' or 'hard'. Then it might get grudgingly changed =)

Rock is the limiting factor
I think this is the status-quo excuse that gets used all the time ("Cry cry, they have more rock!") - I'm suggesting challenging this notion. After all, how does it serve us to have this limiting view? It's just my opinion, but I don't think rock area is a useful predictor of possible route difficulty. Look at the UK and parts of NZ for amazing utility of limited rock resources.

Who's going to be a route-developing philanthropist?
You're right, it wouldn't be for everyone. And it would be awesome if hardware was supplied (a la Europe). But if a route developer in each State puts up say, 10 new routes a year (including personal projects) and happens to establish one open project per year, we have a seeding effect of super hard lines. Doing one per year is not so unreasonable to imagine.

We need to travel
100% agree!

Anonymous said...

I think one thing that you may have overlooked in Sydney is that people train alot. There must be over 100 people in Sydney alone that have bouldered V10.