Time has a habit of whittling away at the fearsome reputation of many routes. Technology has improved, standards have progressed, and the testpieces of yesteryear are quite often the warmups of today.
And yet, there remain routes which have lost none of their potency over the years. Such lines continue to intimidate and inspire in equal measure, goading eager young punks into tests of valour. Scimitar is undoubtedly one such route, a daunting crackline that arcs across the otherwise flawless granite of Girraween’s Second Pyramid.
When Ian “Humzoo” Thomas and Trevor Gynther made the first ascent in 1974, they’d both had a thorough schooling in the dark art of crack climbing at Frog Buttress. Even so, Scimitar was a different beast. The initial slab and first 10m of the crack were climbed free, but the remainder required sustained aid techniques apart from a move or two in the middle.
One imagines that the experience must have been quite engaging, as the aid continued beyond the point at which it was strictly necessary. The leader eventually found himself lying flat on the slab with his feet still in the stirrups, at which point it became obvious that he could simply stand up without the use of his hands. He then did so, sheepishly continuing to the top to claim the first ascent.
Scimitar was later freed in 1979 by visiting hotshots Tobin Sorenson and John Allen and given a grade of 21. By modern standards, this is considered to be somewhat stiff, and the route has a reputation of infamy even 40 years after the first free ascent. Rumours of runouts, blind gear placements and ambiguity regarding the blank slab top-out have all conspired to ensure that Scimitar sees relatively few repeats.
One recent ascensionist is Alex Mougenot, a South East Queensland crusher and Awesome Woodys athlete. He is no stranger to hard climbing and has built an impressive resume in boulder, sport and trad styles. Any normal 21 would be well under his pay grade, and yet he reports feeling intimidated by the route.
“Some routes peer into your soul and judge your character, questioning whether you’ve got what it takes to get to the top,” says Alex, waxing poetic. “Scimitar doesn’t even take any notice of you. You’re nothing. Scimitar just is. It has a presence that even the hikers feel, the animals and birds too. It’s quiet at the base.”
I stood with Alex at that quiet base some years ago, feeling overwhelmed by that same looming presence. We had a brief and largely cursory discussion before fear drove us away without so much as having racked up. Given the rough time we subsequently had on an easier Girraween classic, it was an excellent decision. A couple of years later, Alex and partner Blake Stringer managed to overcome pre-climb jitters and incoming rain clouds to secure an ascent of “that arching crack to oblivion”.
“I was looking at it as a notch on my belt, but Scimitar was more than that,” Alex later recalled. “The reward wasn’t the tick itself, but rather the growth that it inspired in my climbing. What an experience!”
Just like the curved blade from which it takes its name, Scimitar is a thing of menace. For the foolish and unprepared, it has the ability to slice egos to ribbons. But for those who would approach with caution and respect, a powerful experience awaits.
Route information in Girraween is a closely guarded secret, but you can find some scraps of knowledge on Scimitar at theCrag.com
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