Set incongruously against the vastness of the Wimmera Plains, the freestanding monolith of Castle Crag is perhaps the most iconic formation at Mt Arapiles. It is fitting that this incredible pillar houses one of Australia’s most iconic routes, a route in turn freed by one of Australia’s most iconic climbers. That route is Procol Harum and the climber is the none other than Kim Carrigan.
Steep and intimidating, Procol Harum was once an “impossible” route. In fact, the difficulty was such that first ascensionist Chris Baxter claimed he would eat his own underpants if the route ever went free… now there’s an enticing wager!
Such outlandish claims often have a galvanising effect on eager young climbers looking to prove themselves. So it was with Procol Harum, and it took a fiercely motivated 20-year-old named Kim Carrigan to free the route and give the nation its first 26. Not one to rest on his laurels, Carrigan saw this as merely the first skirmish in a long crusade.
“I was absolutely focused on removing all aid from Arapiles, and I started with Procol Harum” Carrigan said. “After that I was sure I could free everything! The main issue was simply training and persistence.”
One assumes that shortly after witnessing Baxter’s underwear banquet, Carrigan continued with his veritable spree of freeing hard routes. He went on to become the standard-bearer for hard Australian climbing and was instrumental in pushing difficulty at the highest level, establishing routes such as Fox on a Hot Thin Roof (27), India (28) and Masada (29). His accomplishments extended overseas also, most notably snagging the First Free Ascent of what has become one of Yosemite’s most classic free routes, The Rostrum (5.11c).
But it all started with Procol Harum, the steep roof crack which is still wild and funky indeed. For many modern climbers who find joy in steep thuggery, the route may feel easier than advertised with the liberal application of beta-sprays and knee-bars. Even so, placing protection might prove a desperate proposition, and many modern ascents compromise with fixed gear. Demanding crack moves round out the challenge, meaning that Procol Harum remains an enduring testpiece combining new-school style with old-school grit.
Route information for Procol Harum can be found in Arapiles Selected Climbs by Simon Mentz and Glenn Tempest.
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
#12 – Tiptoe Ridge, Mt Arapiles – Grade 5 – 120m
#13 – Groove Train, Grampians – Grade 33 – 45m
#14 – Devil’s Dihedral, Frog Buttress – Grade 20 – 45m
#15 – Eurydice, Mt Arapiles – Grade 18 – 70m
#16 – Bunny Bucket Buttress – Grade 18 – 270m
#17 – Kachoong, Mt Arapiles – Grade 21 – 25m
#18 – Passport to Insanity, Grampians – Grade 27 – 135m
#19 – Impulse, Frog Buttress – Grade 24 – 18m
#20 – Eye of the Tiger, Grampians – Grade 29 – 25m
#21 – Scimitar, Girraween – Grade 21 – 70m
#22 – Procol Harum, Grade 26 – 25m