It would be difficult, perhaps impossible, to name an individual whose influence on Australian climbing was greater than John Ewbank. First and foremost, he lent his name to the Australian rock grading system we know and use today… and so do the Kiwis, so make sure you firmly remind them of this fact when they piss and moan about Pavlova or Trevor Chappell’s underarm bowl. The Ewbank System is an open-ended numerical grade that is so elegantly simple, it makes you wonder why nobody thought of it earlier.
The 1960’s were a tumultuous era and the Blue Mountains were certainly no refuge against the winds of change. It was during these heady seasons that John Ewbank cemented his legacy. When he wasn’t busy devising new grading systems or championing clean climbing practices, Ewbank contented himself with pushing the physical and technical boundaries of the sport. The surge of standards that he personally delivered to Australian rock climbing is perhaps best exemplified by The Janicepts.
In a region better known for steep sport routes, Mt Piddington is the still-beating heart of traditional climbing in the Blue Mountains. The incongruous crack lines to be found there have developed near-mythical reputations, bolstered rather than diminished by the passage of time. The Janicepts is one of these legendary beasts and remains a traditional test piece in the modern era.
When Ewbank first climbed the route (with a rest) in 1966, it represented a quantum leap in technical standards. Not only was it the hardest route in the nation at Grade 21, it also involved the gratuitous use of a rather alien technique – jamming. With the “discovery” of Frog Buttress and Ben Lomond still the better part of a decade away, precious few Australian climbers knew anything about the dark art of crack climbing. Such was the dearth of ability that it was another 8 years before The Janicepts was freed by the venerable and colourful Mike Law.
Even modern climbers, blessed with the advent of sticky rubber and spring loaded camming devices, consider The Janicepts to be a tough customer. An ascent of the aesthetic, overhung crack is not as straightforward as it appears and demands the mastery of all manner of techniques. A pumpy combination of cavelets, loose hand cracks, offwidths and even a modest serving of face climbing will test the aspiring ascensionist, forcing one to work for each and every meter.
The Janicepts is a battle, to be sure, but who would expect anything less from such a storied line? For more than half a century, this steep, forbidding crack has captured the imagination of Australian climbers. Generations come and go, but Ewbank’s legacy remains.
So, that’s number 10, which means we’re a fifth of the way through the 50 Classics of Australia list… What do you think so far? What other lines would you include?
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
#10 – The Janicepts, Blue Mountains – Grade 21 – 27m