There are several reasons for which a route might come to be regarded as a “classic”. Sometimes, it’s simply about the movement. Other times, it’s outrageous positions that create a memorable experience. Often, climbers are inexorably drawn to an aesthetic line. Occasionally, they come for the sense of history and mythology that certain routes acquire.
And every now and again, it’s all those things at once, and such is the case with Passport to Insanity. Although it is sometimes described as “the best line in Australia”, such labels are subjective and ultimately unprovable. It is, however, hard to deny that this route’s colourful history forms one of the most interesting chapters in the annals of Australian climbing lore.
Located deep within the Grampians on a feature aptly known as “The Fortress”, Passport to Insanity is a difficult route made even harder by difficult access. The remoteness has certainly kept many punters at bay, but it remains a dream tick for many aspiring hardpersons by virtue of the remarkable, improbable, astounding second pitch – a downward-sloping 6m roof bisected by a thin-hands splitter.
This peerless pitch was originally aided by Keith Lockwood and Joe Friend back in October 1974. The first ascensionists left a wee bottle at the conclusion of the roof, inside which was a message offering a $500 bounty to whomever could free the route. Being quite a substantial sum in those days (and remaining so among many climbers of the modern era), it was undoubtedly a wager made in the belief that it would never need to be paid.
But 12 years later, having trained relentlessly on a homemade crack simulator, the diminutive Nyrie Dodd found the bottle after jamming her way to glory… barefoot, no less! She gave the pitch a grade of 28 (later downgraded by consensus to 27) and then proceeded to the abode of one Mr Lockwood to claim her cash prize. What happened next is one of the most infamous controversies in Australian climbing history – Lockwood refused to pay up.
The reasons for his refusal are unclear and the truth has become rather shrouded in myth. One story goes that the wording of the note offered the cash to the “first man” to free the route, and since Nyrie was not a man, Lockwood churlishly denied her claim on the grounds of this technicality. But other versions abound, and Tim Lockwood claims (albeit with a grain of salt) that his old man wasn’t complicit in placing the note at all.
“The truth(!?) is that dad had no knowledge of this note until Nyrie handed it to him,” wrote Tim. “Joe put it there of his own accord. But hey, I’d probably believe anything dad told me!”
Whatever the reason, the fact remains that Nyrie Dodd successfully freed what was and still remains one of the most coveted testpieces in Oz. This was a real coup for lady climbers in an era largely dominated by men, and it would be more than a decade before a bloke would repeat the feat. It is famously known that as of 2004, only four climbers had freed the route, three of whom were women – Nyrie Dodd, Jill McLeod, and none other than the legendary Lynn Hill. In crack climbing, size definitely matters, and it would appear that the dimensions of the thin-hands splitter favour the slender proportions of smaller females. In contrast, the only male to free the route at that point in time was Malcolm “HB” Matheson, who reportedly used face holds rather than jamming technique to surmount the roof.
Regardless of the virtues and pitfalls of various hand sizes, no slouch has ever freed Passport to Insanity. It’s a serious line in a remote location, and demands equal measures of experience, strength, technique and determination. As well as the impressive roof, the route includes tricky gear, wide cracks, some dodgy rock and an even dodgier descent. However muddled the history of the route may be, one thing is clear – Passport to Insanity and those who have topped out on it deserve no small amount of respect.
Route information for Passport to Insanity can be found in Grampians Climbing by Neil Monteith and Simon Carter.
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