If you ever need a lesson on the subjectivity of grading, Muldoon makes a pretty decent case study. It’s also a prime example of the absolute immutability of grades once classic status has been confirmed.
The route was first climbed in 1965 by Reg Williams and Peter Jackson (who presumably was something of a rock climber before his work on the Lord of the Rings films). A monster jug-haul within shouting distance of The Pines, this instant classic was named Muldoon and was given a grade of 13.
Even whilst making concessions for its antiquity, many would agree that the climb is pretty damn stout for the grade. Most assessments of the relative difficulty of Muldoon run along the lines of “it’s a testpiece for the grade” or “13 my arse” or “I’ve climbed easier 17’s”. Indeed, a neighbouring route named Surface to Air goes at 17 and doesn’t feel appreciably harder… not 4 grades harder, in any case!
Whether you think Muldoon is hard, soft, or goldilocks matters little – the grade ain’t going nowhere. There’s an unwritten law that states that the grades of classic lines, especially those with historical character, are set in stone… no pun intended. Some modern guidebooks have listed Muldoon as a 15, a rating which feels more comparable with nearby climbs and yet has been almost entirely ignored.
With further research, it appears quite likely that this disparity is entirely subjective. Around a decade ago, the erstwhile piton which protected the crux disappeared. Word has it that it fell out and was placed on the bulletin board, awaiting the attention of one with the suitable skills to replace it. This never occurred.
It is ironic that a piece of hardware as demonstrably insecure as the Muldoon crux piton could offer any psychological edge. Nevertheless, the ersatz permanence of a fixed peg can, and did, confer a sense of security that a shallow micronut cannot. Instead of a mere backup, a fiddly #1 RP now forms the sole defence against an ugly swing and the very real possibility of a broken ankle or two. The technical difficulty of the climb remains unchanged, but perhaps the mental challenges have been increased.
Regardless of the theories and postulations made above, the fact remains that Muldoon is a stellar climb and an absolute classic. A quick romp up polished, bulbous rock leads to a short, leftward traverse and the infamous crux. This blind, bouldery move is thinly protected before the technical difficulties give way to a series of jugs that would leave a poet short for words. Climb it in two pitches if you fancy, or extend your placements to avoid rope drag on one enjoyably long ramble.
Steep, sustained, sublime… sandbagged? It doesn’t matter what adjective you slap on it, Muldoon is nothing but class.
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
#7 – Muldoon, Mt Arapiles – Grade 13 – 42m