A couple of years ago, I was negotiating the loose rock and encroaching scrub at the base of Tibrogargan, having made a poor navigational choice in approaching Carborundum Wall from the south rather than the east. It was a serendipitous mistake, one which brought to my attention the sizeable gap between Dreadnought and Airtime over Pumicestone. Looking up, I could see that a series of weaknesses might connect and that a new route could be possible.
I soon recruited the young and exuberant Alex Mougenot to the cause, which wasn’t a particularly hard sell. We discussed tactics, believing that a reconnaissance mission with the potential for rap-bolting anchors and/or steep segments might be prudent. Time got away from us and this never occurred. Soon after, I embarked on a 12 month climbing road trip through South America, so the project got mothballed.
Upon returning to Australia, my enthusiasm for the idea returned. We awaited the cooler months, meanwhile intending to undertake the aforementioned recon mission by climbing both Dreadnought and Airtime. From these vantages, we reasoned, we could get a better idea of the terrain.
Having climbed Dreadnought before, I knew that the anchor at the end of the first pitch is essentially non-existent. I recall slotting four worthless RP’s into soft, flaky rock and telling my second not to fall before snuggling into a shallow depression to belay. Knowing that Dreadnought could be taken off the Tibro Death Route Register by the addition of modern hardware, I asked the first ascensionists if they would consent to the installation of a bolted anchor.
The original topo describes a “vegetated ledge”, and one would therefore assume a tree belay. No such tree currently exists, but a DBB would withstand the test of time and not dramatically alter the character of the route. This was my rationale, and although Mike Meadows agreed with me, Ted Cais did not. Being the senior climber at the time of the first ascent, he vetoed our request to install the anchor. His desire is that the route should remain entirely free of bolts, and I entirely respect his stalwart vision. Given the impressive length of the route, and the proliferation of bolts on similar lines, I can understand his prerogative to maintain Dreadnought’s unique albeit intimidating nature.
Although he denied our request, Mr Cais was not unsympathetic toward our cause. Speaking by proxy through Mr Meadows, he extended his best wishes and encouraged us to go for it in classic style – ground up with zero inspection and minimal hardware. And so we did.
There were several false starts due to bad weather and car problems, but we finally arrived at the wall on 30th May 2019. We carried a single rack with doubles in microcams, a collection of RP’s, a posy of ballnuts, a single bugaboo piton and a hammer. As a modern concession, we also carried a Bosch and a handful of expansion bolts, a hefty weight we hauled but never used. With these tools, we launched onto the wall.
I took the lead on the first pitch, a modest beginning. A shallow corner soon ended with a leftward traverse on blocky Tibro slab. Gear was spaced but adequate for the technical difficulties, mostly easy scrambling with a few nice moves toward the end of the pitch. Upon reaching the ledge, I located a sturdy tree from which to belay and made an interesting discovery.
It had previously occurred to me that a blank section of rock on a mountain as well-trodden as Tibro is something of an anomaly. I found myself wondering how this line could possibly have escaped the collective attention of route developers in the past. As it turns out, it hadn’t.
Encircling the base of the belay tree was an ancient length of tat, undoubtedly an anchor from a previous ascent. We began to question the nature of our attempt, but carried on anyway. Shortly afterward, Moogii encountered more evidence of passage – a fixed piton with an old oval carabiner, and strangely, a length of thin steel wire. It became apparent that this was the highpoint of a previous excursion, left in place to facilitate retreat.
Soon after this second discovery, shit got real. The wall steepened, the protection became desperate, the exposure increased, and the moves became technical. After a tenuous rightward traverse, Alex found himself on a small arête, where committing moves culminated on a small ledge. Here, he placed our sole piton, and then launched into a short, difficult, dangerous corner. Soon, Alex reached the Promised Land – a low-angled slab where a tree belay beckoned.
If the rock was solid and the gear was bomber, this second pitch would be quite excellent. Instead, the rock is terrifying and the gear is often psychological, meaning the second pitch is a fucking nightmare. I belayed with my heart in my throat for more than three hours while Alex delicately navigated the pitch, and I honestly think it was the most incredible lead I have ever seen. Between a brief spell of unplanned simulclimbing and the occasional geological bombardment, I felt pretty gripped myself, but we made it in the end.
With the vast shadow of Tibrogargan stretching all the way to Pumicestone Passage, we needed to motor if we were going to finish the route. I quickly unfucked the rack and ventured forth, making a marginally protected and massively exposed traverse to a short corner. Nestled inside the corner was a jigsaw of shattered rock where I gingerly threaded some tiny wires and tried to my best to levitate. Although the terrain remained committing, I was able slide effortlessly into the state of intense focus that seems to come easier on the sharp end. As a result, I felt pretty good about life as I quested upward, passing a moderate chimney and an exposed arête. This stellar, rope-stretching pitch ended with a bomber gear belay in an awkward bushy alcove.
From here, it was a simple matter to finish the route. An unprotected but easy slab saw us topping out on a vegetated pillar where the final pitch of Airtime Over Pumicestone begins. Instead of climbing this pitch to the summit, we crept carefully along the top of the pillar to find a bolted anchor. We donned headlamps and rappelled Airtime as night quickly fell.
Was it a classic? Probably not. Was it an incredible adventure? You bloody well know it was!
We called the route Cold Case, a reference to the previously unfinished nature of the line. It’s also a homophonic tip of the hat to the local legend who encouraged us to embark on an old school adventure. We are chuffed with the style of the ascent, and although we briefly discussed returning to clean and equip the second and third pitches, we have decided to keep this route as a bold trad testpiece in classic Tibro style. The one compromise would be with our piton placement, which repeat ascensionists are welcome to replace with a bolt should they feel the urge.
That said, it could be a while between drinks as far as repeats are concerned, but I’m happy to be proved wrong. If you do choose to accept the challenge, take care – this is a serious route and requires a solid party. For gear beta or pitch information, check out the route entry on theCrag or the 2023 edition of the South East Queensland Climbing guidebook.
Ryan Siacci, Esq.