Moving Outdoors

These words are intended for those climbers who are just starting to climb on rock after learning the basics in the gym. It is also highly recomended that you undertake a climbing couse from a certified and qualified company or instructor.

Outdoor climbing is very different from the indoor variety, so there will be a few surprises. As you first venture out, you are likely to be quite strong, but hugely lacking in technique. You may find some of the quarry climbs and Churchman’s more juggy routes not too dissimilar to the gyms, but climbing many other climbs, including the slabs and boulders, is a different thing altogether.

Rockclimbing requires footwork and moves that cannot be learned in the gym. Often you need to find your own route – there’s no coloured plastic to follow out on the rock. And often you have to simply use friction, rather than any defined hold, to stay on the rock.

So you are willing, give it a go! At first you will find that there are very few obvious holds. The stuff just doesn’t form many nice features to pull on. With many routes you really have to study the terrain and milk even individual crystals for all the support they can give. Also, the grades may seem too severe, particulary to those who try and lead. You may crank 22s in the gym but be completely humbled by a 17 like Darlington’s Teddy. There are many good testing low-grade routes on Perth rock, do not despair and hang in there. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions.

Q: What gear do I need to get started near Perth?

A: Nearly every novice climber top-ropes first, before considering getting on the “sharp end” of the rope. For top-roping around Perth you will need a 50 or 60 metre climbing rope, a length of static rope or long slings for setting up the toprope, three or so locking karabiners, some quickdraws and bolt plates. Shoes, harness and a belay device will be helpful too. This stuff is not cheap but if you hook up with someone, you can split the cost. Climbing shops are full of books about starting rock climbing and nearly all of them have a section on gear. When and if you start leading later, things will get more expensive: a full set of nuts, including four or five RPs and eight or so cams, including three microcams and some more quickdraws and longer slings will see you through. As for what brands to use – talk to other people at the crags, ask.

Q: I would like to start leading but it seems too scary. Why are the bolts so much further apart than in the gyms? Is it safe?

A: Leading any route is inherently risky and implies a degree of courage and commitment, there is no such thing as a “safe” lead. Perth granite climbing has a rich tradition of boldness, and mental ability is valued just as highly as technical ability. Since nearly every route near Perth can be top roped, there is no need to misguidedly attempt to create completely “safe” leads. If you need some time and experience in this department, then please do not rush. Many regular outdoor climbers do not wish to have routes bristling with fixed gear, since this takes an important dimension out of climbing and often looks plain ugly. To acknowledge the courage of past and present climbers, and to warn others that may not be equipped for the challenges, this guidebook uses “R” and “X” suffixes attached to numerical grades, see Abbreviations section. You may never lead climb Wungong’s Freedom (19R), or you may thrill to the challenge.

Q: Is it OK to add a bolt to an existing route to make it safer?

A: Sorry, but no. The accepted ethic in Australia is that the route should be always climbed in the style in which it was first done. For example, if it is an unprotected solo, like Mt.Randall’s Enigma (21X), it should remain a solo and bolts should not be added. If it is a bolted grade 15, it should remain bolted although there are climbers here who could probably solo it on sight, in tennis shoes, and remove the bolts on their way! Of course no one owns a route, not the first ascentionist, not you, not CAWA. But sticking to this common ethic of respect is a good way to avoid bolt adding and chopping arguments. Since some climbers are bold and others cautious, in the long run we are bound to end up with a good mix of routes to please everyone.

Q: Is it OK to add holds to routes by chipping or gluing the rock?

A: NO – It is traditionally considered extremely poor form to bring a climb down to your level. Formerly, chipping was tolerated in the quarries, which are man-made anyway and often offer some steep but featureless faces. However as most of the quarries are now managed by DEC, IT IS ILLEGAL TO CHIP, DAMAGE OR DEFACE – AND THIS INCLUDES THE PLACING OF BOLTS – ON ANY DEC MANAGED ROCK, WHETHER NATURAL OR ARTIFICIAL, IN ANY WAY WITHOUT THE AUTHORITY OF THE DEC REGIONAL MANAGER.

Q: Why are some bolts so difficult to reach from stances?

A: Because the person doing the bolting was a 7-foot mutant. Well, actually sometimes the first bolt off the ground is placed high to offer better protection above it. Just boulder up, using your belayer as a spotter.

Q: Can all bolts be trusted?

A: Only your mother can be trusted. A bolt is only as good as the installer and the material used. There are no widely accepted standards, except for the know-how of some people. Even bolts installed and tested by qualified professionals have been known to fail. If in doubt, give it a tug, if still in doubt, do not use it. The best safety device in climbing is always situated between your ears. If you cannot accept the increased degree of risk inherent in this sport, please do not climb.

Q: Is it safe to go climbing with someone I just met recently?

A: It is not easy to find outdoor climbing partners but beware: every time you leave the ground, you are placing your health and life into the hands of the belayer. Many people have “got dropped” because their belayer was distracted or stood far from the base of wall or did not have the technique down pat. Belaying is an art. If you do not trust your belayer with your life, you are best advised not to leave the ground.

Q: Why can’t I get a bracket on some hangerless bolts?

A: Two possibilities: (i) Because it was hit by the installer’s hammer so hard that its diameter was increased! This phenomenon is known as a “fat carrot” and there are a few around. Any time you lead a Perth route equipped with carrots, it is a good idea to carry with you a small wired nut so that you can snag the bolt with it if the hanger does not fit. Alternatively have one hanger with the “keyhole” filed out to a larger size. If you do not bother, be aware that the alternative can sometimes be to deck out from high up! (ii) The other reason could be that are trying to fit a 90-degree RP hanger on a 10mm bolt. The RP hangers have a smaller slot in them and seem to fit best on 3/8” bolts, but not on some metric 10mm ones. Use PFH hangers instead.

Extract from the CAWA Perth Guidebook 2002.