50 Classic Climbs of Australia – Ozymandias

Mt Buffalo (Photo by Duncan Brown)

Before Australian climbers began squabbling over which pieces of rock should be adorned with bolts and which shouldn’t, a different kind of turf war gripped the land. During the 60’s and 70’s, an intense rivalry formed between the kingpins of the various East Coast climbing communities. It was the original State of Origin, with the central figures of Victoria’s Chris Baxter and Queensland’s Rick White leading from the front.

Although the rewards were nothing more than kudos and bragging rights, the war was bitter and fraught. “Raiding Parties” would sally forth into enemy territory, attempting to nab quick repeats or eliminate aid moves from routes. The greatest prizes of all were long, hard aid routes, a style which was very much in vogue at the time. Thus, the North Wall of Mt Buffalo became the most infamous battleground of the era with its endowment of big wall testpieces. One of the most commanding, and certainly the most famous of these is the venerable Ozymandias.

Athlete By Choice training guru Duncan Brown below Ozymandias. I’m not sure how to describe that facial expression though… (Photo by Duncan Brown)

The first attempt was undertaken by John Ewbank and Chris Baxter, ending at the fourth pitch. Not long afterward, Baxter abandoned his erstwhile partner, a move which could hardly have endeared him to his New South Welsh counterpart. Either way, it was Baxter and his new partner Chris Dewhirst who made the first ascent of Ozymandias in 1969. The ascent was a clarion call which sounded across the country, a challenge to self-proclaimed hard men everywhere… Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair!

It was Rick White who responded to the call to arms, who together with John Hattink, eliminated the need for hammers in 1970. At the time, clean aiding was a novel technique, but the “hammerless” ascent was more a contrivance of the ego than one of ethics. By eliminating the pitons on hard Victorian lines, White hoped to maintain the supremacy of his own Queensland testpieces on Mt Maroon.

“Thinking back, it’s hard to justify hammerless climbing,” Rick White later mused. “Why make a hard aid route harder by leaving behind some crucial gear? I guess it’s just another game climbers play.”

Even so, it represented a huge step forward in Australian climbing ethics. It even spurred the birth of the #0 RP, with the experience leading White to suggest to Roland Pauligk that he create an even smaller brass wire.

“When we did them, it was a visionary act,” said White. “Now it’s just accepted as the norm. If you pull out a hammer and a piton, people think you’re a bit of a wuss if you’re doing Ozymandias or even Lord Gumtree.”

However, it should certainly be remembered that the very act of placing pitons opened cracks wide enough by which clean ascents could eventually occur. This mirrored events which occurred in Yosemite Valley, whereby Warren Harding’s pioneering epic on The Nose opened the gates for the fast, free ascents which followed. Similarly, Ozymandias’ latter ascents were made possible by the pin scars created by the first ascensionists as they blazed a trail up the soaring corners, past intimidating roofs, and through the labyrinth of chimneys.

And indeed, Ozymandias has seen a steady progression of ethics throughout the years, with new ascents aiming to enhance the “purity” of the climb. A direct variant was established, powering through the giant roof rather than skirting it. Steve Monk completed the first free ascent in 1995, a monumental Australian climbing achievement. A decade later, Lee Cossey tore up the wall in a single day in 2005. That said, the free version of Ozymandias goes at 28, and with 280m of unforgiving granite, that’s one tough customer. As such, it is still regularly climbed as an aid route, going at M4.

Legendary Arapilite Simon Mentz nears the imposing roof (Photo by John Middendorf)

An aid ascent of Ozymandias demands big wall tactics, and is more often than not a multi-day affair. That’s a rarity in Australia. Such a route is a godsend for those who would aspire to the climb the bigger walls of the world, particularly in the US, Canada and Patagonia. This fact alone provides great value, but combine that with the aesthetic appeal and historical significance of Ozymandias, and it’s hard to deny that this is a pretty special line.

Route information for Ozymandias can be found in the Mt Buffalo Guidebook by Kevin Lindorff and Simon Murray.

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
#11 – Ozymandias, Mt Buffalo – Grade 28 or M4 – 280m

Thoughts? Opinions? Cries of dissent?