Climbing in Australia's Northern Territory 1974-75


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Outback Bill

Mountain climber
Robbinsdale, MN
Topic Author's Original Post - Mar 6, 2012 - 02:02pm PT
We knew of only one other group of technical rock climbers as having done roped ascents in the MacDonnell Ranges prior our exploratory climbs. However I just searched a website today the gives good evidence of a 2nd group that also preceded us in the outback and here is the link I'm going to also send some of my photos to them as I've emailed info to them before.
After graduating from college in 1973 I managed to land a job in Alice Springs, Northern Territory, Australia. For those of you familiar with that part of the world it is in the center of the country and the Macdonnell Ranges runs smack thru "The Alice."

Here of some photos of my mates who swatted flies, stared down snakes and patted down parrot dropping as we clawed up brittle sandstone walls in that region. Peter Walton, an extremely experienced mountaineer from Scotland, needed climbing partners so he taught us all how to rock climb. Here goes... I love the above photo. We'd cram into any vehicle we could borrow and head out for days of climbing, swimming in water holes and sleeping outside under crazy clear desert skies. Great adventure in all directions... Most of the climbs we did were first ascents, though I'm not sure how many, if any, were recorded as such. I don't feel it is that important as I have no doubt that aboriginals explored these mountains long before anyone else and probably set foot on every square inch of them.
I wasn't as happy as I looked that day (read caption). When I scrambled up to the top of the second pitch to join the others, I was wondering why they were all huddled together in a far corner giggling at me. Then I looked over to the left and a snake was coiled up "snoozing!" Uh, huh. Funny guys Above, climbing at Jessie Gap. The above climb at Heavitree Gap was not hard, maybe 5.4, but for my first lead ever it got my full attention. As I recall the groove only took the smalled wired pro. In the above race my pal John Bell won the mile run in 4:27 or so with me rolling up 2nd in about 4:35. The amazing thing is that John had the flu that day, had been thowing up, somehow got out of bed to run and win this race, then went back to bed to continue being one sick dingo. The man had guts. One additional note is that he helped coach the first aboriginal runners to enter the New York City Marathon in 2011. All his runners finished and a 2nd group ran this year as part of a continuing effort to give young aboriginals role models for success.

Australia, particularly the MacDonnell Ranges in my case, offered so much adventure and the opportunity to view nature at its best. The wild birds, reptiles, foliage and "big sky" was a great home while I was there. I still keep in touch with Ted, who later married Jill and had several children! Not sure what happened to Peter,a Scot, I last ran into in Dunedin, NZ, or John Hart, an Aussie who was living in Adelaide. Another climber, Ken Jones, from Wales, a distinguished climber with a mountain rescue background, who arrived as Peter left Aussie, took up where Peter left off teaching me all he knew about rock climbing. Ken now resides near Sydney.

The locations we climbed and/or bouldered in the Macdonnell Ranges were: Heavytree Gap, Emily Gap, Jesse Gap, Trephina Gorge, Hart's Range, Standley Chasm, Simpson's Bluff and Ormiston Gorge.

For running I ran in the dry river beds of the Todd River and other tributaries, ran the road encircling Ayers Rock, and bushwhacked a run over the top of the ridge to the West of Heavytree Gap and back through the gap into Alice (ouch, I still remember the Spinifex plant spikes in my ankles!). John and I once ran in the Todd River during a rare flood and polished that run off with a sprint around the flooded horse race track.

I was quite sad to move away from the NT, but in 1976 I continued my trip around the world. I think it is about time to visit the Outback again. This time I'll take my wife and 8 year old son.

Trad climber
Living Outside the Statist Quo
Mar 6, 2012 - 02:17pm PT
Good stuff! Now that is some adventure, Big Thanks for bringing the report to the Taco Stand. That place is right in the middle of that big island, the heat, and snakes would have kept most indoors.


Social climber
Mar 6, 2012 - 03:45pm PT
Ain't nowhere got nuthin like nuthin in Australia

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
Mar 6, 2012 - 03:53pm PT
Nice write up, mate! Would like to see the pics re-sized for us white-caners.

St Patrick wouldn't even vacation in that bloody place!
Kurt Ettinger

Trad climber
Martinez, CA
Mar 6, 2012 - 03:59pm PT
Cool past adventures! Thanks for sharing with us.
Outback Bill

Mountain climber
Robbinsdale, MN
Topic Author's Reply - Mar 6, 2012 - 11:51pm PT
Sorry about the photo sizes. Just got home from work so I'll try to resize them now.... Yep, I went there not knowing what to expect way back in '74. Landing at the Alice airport I was even more skeptical about what I'd gotten myself into. Then I went for my first run down a fire road outside town and within a few minutes found the trail blocked by a monitor lizard weighing about 165lbs and over 7 feet long (as I remember). At that point I knew this wasn't in Kansas and I knew I was in the wildest West there is! Remember Ayers Rock and the Olga mountains are south of Alice. Bouldered and hiked around the Olgas too but you can't do any technical rock climbing out of respect for Aboriginal traditions and rights. There is a cable route up Ayers Rock just like on Half Dome...similar experience except Ayers Rock is all by itself! One illegal ascent of a technical sort did take place on Ayers Rock' "Kangaroo Tail" section, a long chimney type the mid '70s...and got written up in the now defunct "Mountain" magazine from Britain. I have a copy of it and may try to pop it onto ST in the near future.

Social climber
Mar 7, 2012 - 12:39am PT
hey there say, outback bill...

this is wonderful!!! wonderful share...
i love the older pics from 'back then'...

history, peeking up at us... :)

thanks so very much for choosing to share all this,
it is very much appreciated...

very new and diffferent to see...

*i know a gal in australia... i will mention it to her, too...

Big Wall climber
Terrapin Station
Mar 7, 2012 - 02:01am PT

Trad climber
Canada eh, now Qld, Aust
Mar 8, 2012 - 02:28am PT

Was in the area last year, I was sure someone had to have climbed at Emily, Jesses' etc...Dang you got to climb at Kings too!!! I guess we were a generation too late...the parks people take themselves a little too seriously these days....

The big question. Did you get to climb some of the sandstone cracks I saw on the flanks of Ayers Rock/Uluru???

Great Pics Mate.

Sierra Ledge Rat

Social climber
Retired to Appalachia
Mar 8, 2012 - 02:44am PT
What a bunch of pussies. Rock climbing out in the middle of nowhere back in the day, driving pins, battling heat, humidity, poisonous snakes, crocs, etc. Couldn't even drive at night 'cause of all the 'roos? The beer was probably warm, too, huh?

I only been at the top end around Gove, never been to the Alice.


Big Wall climber
Seattle, WA
Mar 8, 2012 - 03:41am PT
Outstanding stuff, Bill. I have no idea about any of the characters but the photos reek of the cool historical stuff that shows up here from time to time. Thanks for sharing.

Trad climber
Mar 8, 2012 - 05:59am PT
Wonderfull stuff! Thanks for taking the time to share these memories.

Jim Henson's Basement
Mar 8, 2012 - 09:17am PT
I agree- great pics and stories. Thanks for the read.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Mar 8, 2012 - 10:26am PT
Great and nostalgic TR!

Thanks for putting it together and sharing with us.

More Aussie climbing history here...

Trad climber
New England
Mar 8, 2012 - 10:31am PT
This is terrific stuff! Thanks for posting it. I agree, more please.

Mar 8, 2012 - 11:22am PT
so cool. that does look (and sound) like the wildest west...and topped off with the recent shot of you in patagonia!

Not knowing anything about this area, I had fun looking through google images of the places you were climbing, like Jesse Gap and Emily Gap...and although not the best video ever, a peaceful walk in Emily Gap came up on youtube

[Click to View YouTube Video]

hope you share more!
Outback Bill

Mountain climber
Robbinsdale, MN
Topic Author's Reply - Mar 9, 2012 - 01:04am PT
Hey Cowpoke, Thanks for posting that Emily Gap video. Nothing seems to have changed there, a good thing!I liked hearing the wind blowing through the Ghost Gum trees.

Also, one of the posts above asked if any of us ever climbed on Ayers Rock (Uluru). We did ask permission to try and climb a route but were turned down flat. The group that did illegally climb the "Kangaroos Tail" caused a bit of a ruckus amongst the Park Officials and probably local Aboriginal tribes people, and may have indirectly affected later requests to climb.

Both Ayers Rock and the nearbly Olgas mountains would offer climbing very similar to climbing in the Pinnacles National Monument in California where I climbed a lot in the early 80's with Tom Rogers, Janet Torno and Dave Mahler among others. If bolts were permitted the Olgas in particular would be a climber's paradise. I don't see that happening as it doesn't fit with Aboriginal wishes for their land so all these domes in the desert will stay the way they are. My next project will be to find the small article on the Kangaroo Tail climb of the early 70's and post it here.

Social climber
Mar 9, 2012 - 05:10am PT
hey there, say... MMCC.... well, if i may say so:

yes, by good solid means....

*i enjoyed that thread, too, (if this is the same one, up at the moment) (did not get to recheck it)...

love the australia shares, all...
night all...
Outback Bill

Mountain climber
Robbinsdale, MN
Topic Author's Reply - Mar 9, 2012 - 10:55am PT
MMCC's post: Wow!Great photos on you site!! I never got to climb at Arapiles and didn't even know it existed while I lived in Aussie.

I read about you and so many other climbers you associated with over the years.

I just found my copy of Mountain #32 with the Kangaroo's Tail ascent on Uluru and also my only issue of Thrutch #66 containing Chris Baxter's story of Henry Barber's climbs throughout Aussie. Was Henry's visit in 1974 or 1975? I couldn't find any year given in the Thrutch article.
Outback Bill

Mountain climber
Robbinsdale, MN
Topic Author's Reply - Mar 9, 2012 - 11:16am PT
For all those who don't happen to have a copy of Mountain magazine #32 I'll post the article on this Ayers Rock (Uluru) climb this weekend. A controversial climb, worthy of note, and very spectacular. I never met the climbers, just think their story is interesting.
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