50 Classic Climbs of Australia – Punks in the Gym

Mayan Smith-Gobat nabbed the first female ascent of Punks (Photo by Rich Crowder)

It was always going to be a shoe-in… but the second entry goes to the venerable Punks in the Gym at the behest of my esteemed comrade Jye Purdon. There are few routes in Australia that can rival the colourful history of Punks, and I also quite like the idea of contrasting this hard sport testpiece against the unroped mountain ramble that took the previous entry.

An Australian icon, Punks in the Gym has a chequered history that dates back to the moustache-sportin’, short-shorts-wearin’, halcyon days of the 1980’s. During his tour of Australia, legendary German climber Wolfgang Gullich snatched the first ascent of the much coveted line in 1985.

To say it was a big deal is something of an understatement. With his initial grade of 32 (5.14a/8b+), Punks shot to stardom not only as the hardest climb in Australia, but the hardest climb in the world. Controversy would surround the grade for many years, as would the enhancement of the route itself and the subsequent effect on its difficulty.

The Man, The Myth, The Lycra-Clad Legend… Wolfgang Gullich (Source: Backcountry.com)

The route, you see, is chipped. It’s a well-known fact, but not one that usually warrants much more than a cursory acknowledgement. Punks was set at a time when sport climbing was still in its infancy, a time when the climbing community was grappling with the ethical principles of bolting as a whole and not mere trifles like “hold improvements”. It’s not entirely fair to judge a classic route, chipped or not, on modern ethical principles which didn’t exist at the time. Punks has thus escaped excommunication and obscurity.

The infamous “Birdbath” hold, with its miserly depth of 15mm, was clearly named with the Australian penchant for irony in mind. The hold reputedly crumbled during Andy Pollitt’s redpoint siege and was restored with the liberal application of glue. The subsequent size of the hold has since been the subject of much controversy, and arguments have been made that an increase in size has reduced the difficulty of the climb. Despite occasional wavering, the grade has solidified at 32 and will likely remain there due to the classic nature of the route.

So, why Punks in the Gym? Well, as mentioned earlier, it was climbed in an era of tremendous upheaval in the climbing community. Gyms were achieving prominence and were heralded by many as embodying the death of the spirit of climbing. Punks was a big fuck you to all that, a clarion call to would-be hard men – try to train your way up this one, punk!

Mayan, again. (Photo by Rich Crowder)

With its classic Arapilisean quartzite, polished by centuries of weathering and decades of thrutching, Punks demands techniques not generally honed on plastic. It is thin, sustained, and demands the prodigious application of body tension and expert smearing…

Or so I am led to believe. I will never climb it, and statistically, it’s likely that you won’t either. But the next time you’re at The Pharos, pop around the corner and gaze in awe at the preposterous thinness that is Punks in the Gym.

Route information for Punks in the Gym 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



Thoughts? Opinions? Cries of dissent?

You May Also Like
Read More

The Long Pathway – Part 1

Cape Reinga to Ahipara or “The Treadmill” “I had witnessed the start; I was sure of that much.…
Read More