Trip Report: New route on Tibrogargan – Cold Case (200m, 20R)

Mt TibrogarganA 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.

I was not overly stoked with the “anchor” on the first pitch of Dreadnought

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.

Cold Case Tibrogargan
Alex Mougenot seconding the first pitch

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.

The author leading the third pitch (Photo by Alex Mougenot)

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.

Cold Case TibrogarganWas 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.
June 2019

11 comments
  1. Boom! What a coup! That Moogy sure has a few screws loose. If you’re back up this way I reckon Mt Cooroora (Pomona) holds a mountain of potential for some ground up madness. Barney, Warning, heck even Crooky, there’s still so much potential out there.

  2. Love it Ryan! The ascent as much as the writing! In a strange way I envy your luck adventuring wild and free with the Ebert more legendary Moog into the shadowed lands, so close to harsh realities and high above the safety of the warm flat pine scented lands below, the smile on your face so easily mistaken for a deathly grimace, the pleasant sensation of a panicked heart forcing cold clots through tight veins… Ah, Tibro as it used to be! (and still is for the bold!)

    In a much less strange way, I’m so glad to read about it from the safety of this warm overbolted Iberian sport climbing paradise… It dredges up memories of wilder and more reckless times (?) , when bolts were an unnecessary evil and the afterglow of courage was the prize we savoured and sought with all our hearts…

    I hope it’s not so long between drinks and look forward to reading more soon!

    1. Hahaha Matt don’t sell yourself short on the writing front, this was the best comment ever! We have friends who may be moving to Spain, and some who already live there, so I will let you know if we mosey over sometime in the near future 🙂

  3. I’m glad you saw fit to preserve the traditional aspect of Tibro climbing. These adventure outings are a vanishing resource as the masses dumb down their approach to the level of guaranteed safety they have become accustomed to in a rock gym.

    Climbing on Tibro is much more than a gym exercise as the questionable nature of the rock and indistinct lines demand a solid level of mental strength to overcome fear and uncertainty.

    A reliance on bolts prevents a more subtle awareness of the rock, environment and our own inner strengths and weaknesses. Then the challenge, when met fairly and squarely, can be more satisfying than just mastering a choreographed gymnastic routine to show off technical competence.

    I think you can now appreciate this philosophy of traditional climbing after heeding my advice not to retro-bolt the stance on Dreadnought. Good job.

    Cheers, Ted Cais

    1. Cheers Ted.

      I certainly find that my personal ethics align pretty closely with your sentiments. I do see the worth of more user-friendly lines, but not if they come at the expense of true adventure. I think the two can co-exist, and although the bold traditional style is indeed a rare critter these days, I consider myself part of a small but passionate group who is keeping the flame alive.

      Thanks for your message and for the inspiration.

      Ryan

Thoughts? Opinions? Cries of dissent?

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