50 Classic Climbs of Australia – Blade Ridge

Blade Ridge, Federation Peak - Photo by Simon Bischoff

Sir Edmund Hillary (whom you may have heard of…) described Federation Peak as “Australia’s only real mountain”. It would need to be a rather special hill indeed to quicken the blood of Sir Ed, and “Fedders” is certainly that… a brooding, remote peak with a generous serving of drama and majesty.

Without doubt, the king line on Federation Peak is Blade Ridge – a wafer-thin, quartzite knife edge, soaring some 400m from the temperate rainforest to the North West Face. Together, these two routes form what is arguably the most spectacular line of alpine rock on the continent. It is peerless in its aesthetic appeal and couldn’t possibly fail to stir the passions of any acolyte of ascension.

But The Blade is no mere rock climb… an ascent of Federation Peak (by any route) is a bonafide example of expedition mountaineering. Ensconced deep within Tasmania’s South West Wilderness, would-be ascensionists must first contend with untamed rainforest, volatile river crossings, endless quagmires of thick peat mud, and savage Antarctic tempests. That’s all before even catching a glimpse of the peak, after which a weather opportunity must present itself.

Although early ascensionists were able to receive air drops for food and other supplies (a practice which was banned in the World Heritage Area in the 70’s), they were at far greater disadvantage in comparison with modern explorers. Apart from the obvious advancements in climbing equipment, the ye olde climbers didn’t have satphones, EPIRB’s or GPS devices… if something went wrong, they were on their own.

Blade Ridge, Federation Peak - Photo by Simon BischoffAnd things, inevitably, did go wrong. The first ascent of Blade Ridge in February 1968 wasn’t without incident. One member of the party fell 20m, narrowly avoiding the icy grip of Death when the rope snagged on a small shrub. They continued on, however, establishing what was (and still is) Australia’s longest rock climb. Not bad!

Federation Peak continues to be a staple in modern climbing history as well, with a landmark ascent being made last year – the first winter ascent of Blade Ridge. The brainchild of Hobart-based writer and photographer, Andy Szollosi, “Winter on the Blade” put two climbers on the summit of Federation Peak after two weeks of agonisingly shitty weather. This was only made possible by meticulous planning and a lot of hard yakka – a real labour of love underaken by a team of passionate masochists.

“It’s a very special place,” Andy told me as he waxed lyrical about Federation Peak and the Arthurs Range. “An unbelievable place, kind of like a lost world.”

His aim to showcase this pristine but vulnerable region to the nation and the world became the genesis for the expedition. Once the trigger had been pulled on the idea, the pieces came together and the team made it happen. They waded through mud, carried loads that would cripple a mule, and even broke bones. In the end, success was met.

Blade Ridge, Federation Peak - Photo by Simon BischoffThe resulting film, directed by Simon Bischoff, will be a powerful entry in Australian climbing history. The trailer has just gone live and can be viewed here. The team are hoping to generate a bit more cash to finish the film project up, so please consider throwing a few clams their way. You won’t regret it, that I can guarantee… Scouts Honour.

All photos provided courtesy of Simon Bischoff (Video Compass)

50 Classic Climbs of Australia
#1 – Logan’s Ridge, Mt Barney – Grade 3 – 1000m
#2 – Punks in the Gym, Mt Arapiles – Grade 32 – 35m
#3 – The Bard, Mt Arapiles – Grade 12 – 120m
#4 – Sunburnt Buttress, Mt Tibrogargan – Grade 19 – 185m
#5 – Infinity, Frog Buttress – Grade 19 – 40m
#6 – Cornerstone Rib, Warrumbungles – Grade 14 – 190m
#7 – Muldoon, Mt Arapiles – Grade 13 – 42m
#8 – Pole Dancer, Cape Raoul – Grade 22 – 55m
#9 – Blade Ridge, Federation Peak – Grade 17 – 420m

Thoughts? Opinions? Cries of dissent?