Rock climbing has evolved significantly over the past century. The advent of sport climbing has caused a major paradigm shift, altering the raison d’etre for route establishment. By and large, the focus now lies in difficulty and athletic prowess.
With that in mind, it can be refreshing to return to a more nostalgic style of climbing, one in which the gold standard was aesthetic appeal and the experience of climbing a beautiful line. These ideas were very much in vogue during the 50’s and 60’s in Australia, a time when rock climbing was yet to fully make the transition from mountaineering to become a sport in its own right. During these formative years, the Warrumbungles featured prominently in the Australian climbing scene and held some of the most coveted lines of the day.
Cornerstone Rib was one of these. The guidebook describes it as “one of the proudest lines in Australia”. This is no exaggeration, says Josh Worley. In writing this entry, I consulted Josh about his recent ascent of the Rib:
“As soon as you crest the ridge to the south of the Bread Knife, on the High Tops tourist track, it just smacks you in the face,” says Josh. “Cornerstone Rib is the obvious line of weakness up Crater Bluff, just begging to be climbed.”
Grade 14 in the Ewbank scale is considered quite mellow by modern stands, but Cornerstone Rib resisted early suitors. Two prominent climbers of the time, Bill Peascod (founder of the Wollongong Climbing Club) and Russ Kippax (co-founder of the Sydney Rock Climbing Club) had a crack at it, but balked at the hard stuff. Instead, they established the route now known as Vintage Rib.
Russ was determined to return to claim his trophy, and recruited his fellow co-founder of the SRC, Dave Roots. Together, this duo had put up several significant FA’s in the area. However, on the day of the would-be ascent, they were pipped to the post by Bryden Allen and Ted Batty.
“It took a while for Russ and Dave to forgive us,” wrote Allen, “but eventually they did and now we all are the best of friends.”
These days, Cornerstone Rib is still regarded as a beautiful, classic line with a true alpine feel – a rare commodity in Australia. Josh Worley explains:
“The first two pitches are quite straightforward and can either be soloed, simul-climbed or done in 2 very cruisy pitches. As we were a party of 3, we decided to pitch it out. We kept our approach shoes on and found ourselves at the base of the rib proper in no time at all.
The crux pitch is really classy, featuring beautiful arête climbing some 100m off the deck. Gear is sufficient and varied. Although it is spaced at times, it is never a serious concern. Best of all, there is bombproof gear for anchors. Every now and then you get to climb past a piece of history (and clip it if you like) with many original pitons still on route.
This all makes the climb a fantastic outing and a great introduction for anyone new to the more adventurous styles of climbing. The final pitches are again fairly cruisy… so much so that I only placed a single #4 BD wire in a horizontal seam. It was mainly just to test that I could pick the right size first go, which I did!
The summit views are incredible, spanning back along the High Tops Track with amazing views of every major spire in the park. The descent off Crater Bluff is an adventure in itself, the icing on the cake. Descending into the Green Glacier is like entering another world.
Quickly you are swallowed up by the canyon where the environment transforms from dry Australian bush to lush sub-tropical forest – quite a contrast to the rest of the park! In less than an hour we were at the base of the spire, repacking our bags and heading back to camp in time for lunch.”
If atmosphere, exposure, adventure and history are what you seek, be sure to pen Cornerstone Rib onto your ticklist.
“You simply can’t help but imagine what it must have been like to explore these magnificent spires as early as the 1930’s,” Josh muses. “No climbing shoes, hemp rope, home-made pro… Respect!”
50 Classic Climbs of Australia
#1 – Logan’s Ridge, Mt Barney – Grade 3 – 1500m
#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