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!


mikl law said...

Glad you did Fuck the Law, I bolted it and woke the next morning sick and couldn't any of the top half, belayed nathan on something and fell asleep for 2 hours, then did it. All I could do for the rest of the trip was sleep/belay

Lee Cujes said...

Hey Mike! It was hard! And good! Reminded me of the sloping edges on Spurt Wall in the Grampians.