Norway, UK, Germany, France - climbing and cheese!

Norway, UK, Germany, France - climbing and cheese!

What a year 2015 has been! After the huge amount of blood, sweat and tears that went into the Australian Climbing Festival, we felt that an extended climbing trip was called for. We bought an old van in Holland that we named 'The Smurf' after it's uncanny resemblance to the white-hatted blue men, and first headed off to climb and paraglide in one of our much-loved countries, France, where all can be enjoyed with red wine and amazing cheese and bread. We went to the Pyrenees where we had a date with some sheep - we did some WWOOFing at a 'fromagerie', a farm where they made delicious cheese and yoghurt from both sheep and cow milk. So we were arm deep in poo when milking the beasts, but the experience of making the cheese and yoghurt, staying with the owners in their house and improving our French, and of course eating the cheese, was a memorable and worthwhile experience. And lo-and-behold, there was great rock climbing and paragliding nearby - what more could you want?

A short trip to the UK saw us attempting to impersonate Joe Brown and Don Whillans by climbing some of their classic routes at Stanage, and then we headed to Norway. In Voss we volunteered for the 'Ekstremesport Festival' and got to see some amazing athletes compete in their field, and of course we went climbing in Norway too, most notably in Uskedalen with our friend Chris Fitzgerald who was joining us for our Russian expedition. The multi-pitch crack climbing of Uskedalen was outstanding, and we would have stayed longer than a week if it wasn't for the notorious Norwegian rain. 

From the cold and rain in Norway, we went to the hot, dry sandstone towers of Pfaltz in Germany before heading to Russia for our Siberian adventure. After Chris headed back to Oz, we returned to Germany where we first climbed at Frankenjura, and then experienced the novel Czech-style climbing at Elbesandstein. Here you can't use any metal pro in the soft rock, so all pro is on slings or knotted cord, even your 'nut tool' is a pointy wooden stick! On to Bavaria, the land of strudel, ledderhosen, and cute felt hats, then through Austria, Italy and back through France to return to Holland where we said good-bye to 'The Smurf'. 

This trip was truly incredible. It was so varied in what we did, and seeing areas and countryside through climbing, hiking and paragliding, as well as the volunteer work we did, made it all the more enriching.

Australian Climbing Festival 2014

Australian Climbing Festival 2014

Far from our usual adventures, at the end of 2013 we decided to take on perhaps the biggest challenge of our lives. We felt it was about time that the Australian Climbing Festival needed to be revived. The last one was run in 2007 by Adam and Claire Donaghue, and it was an impressive, inspirational festival. So much so that we were inspired to do a trip to Yosemite and we booked tickets right after the 2007 festival. After years of waiting for ’someone’ to run another festival we knew the only way to make it happen was to do it ourselves. 

It was a lot of work for the two of us and we barely did anything else for about a year - note the distinct lack of climbing adventures in 2014? We had presentations from climbers Hazel Findlay, Andy Kirkpatrick, Cedar Wright, Paul Pritchard, Jim Duff, Tim Macartney-Snape, Mike Law, Andrew Lock and Greg Mortimer to name just a few. Some highlights of the three day festival on 17-19 October 2014, can be viewed here, and the ACF website is at www.australianclimbingfestival.com.au

With some of the festival mob. From left: Gemma Woldendorp, Hazel Findlay, Cedar Wright, Nina Gallo, Natasha Sebire, Simon Mentz (seated) Andy Kirkpatrick (behind), Paul Pritchard, Damien Gildea

Banff Mountain Film Festival.... and Climbing!

Banff Mountain Film Festival.... and Climbing!

While we were climbing in Malaysia in September, Tash got another great birthday present - news that her short film 'Resounding Silence' about our Greenland climbing and paragliding expedition, had been selected to be a finalist in the Banff Mountain Film Festival for November 2013! Of course we couldn't miss out on the opportunity to go to Canada and enjoy the entire festival.

We were put up in some accommodation in Banff and had complementary passes for the entire week-long festival. It was great to see 'Resounding Silence' screened in front of thousands of people, and after the screening, we were up on stage for Q & A. Pretty exciting, and amazing to meet so many talented filmmakers, climbers and adventurers.

 On stage for Q & A after the screening of 'Resounding Silence' at the Banff Mountain Film Festival, November 2013

On stage for Q & A after the screening of 'Resounding Silence' at the Banff Mountain Film Festival, November 2013

While we were there, we squeeze in a day of rock climbing in Banff, before the temperature dropped and everything was a land of snow and ice. While enjoying the festival and waiting for the ice to form so we could go ice-climbing, we went dry-tooling - basically like sport climbing but with crampons and ice tools. We did manage to get in a bit of ice climbing eventually, but a bit too early in the season for anything decent to form, and we also fit in a day of skiing at Lake Louise.

Climb and Fly in France

Climb and Fly in France

We had wanted to return to France since our Europe climbing trip in 2006: with unsurpassable food, rock, mountains, paragliding and more, France is definitely a place we will return to again and again. We spent two months climbing, hiking, paragliding, from August into October 2011 and still found it hard to leave!  

We started off bouldering in Fontainebleau, since it is close to Paris, then on to Chamonix for some alpine rock climbing. Then in Annecy we met some friends, Andy and Susi, with whom we were going to do an SIV course - that's a paragliding manoeuvres course where you make your glider do all sorts of crazy things to learn to recover it. We spent some time with them paragliding around Annecy and climbed a via ferrata. Then we went on to Laragne where we did a paragliding cross-country course with world champion hang gliding and paragliding pilot, Judy Leden.

After climbing in Sisteron and Orpierre which are nearby, we went to St Hilaire for the world famous Coupe Icare free flying festival, a fun and crazy festival with the well known 'parade' or masquerade of paragliders launching and flying in some outrageous and awkward costumes. While there, we hiked up to a peak called Dent Du Crolle behind the main site for a hike and fly, managing to launch between a break in the clouds. 

 The Col des Frettes - the launch site is the grassy slope facing to the right with a paraglider laid out just visible

The Col des Frettes - the launch site is the grassy slope facing to the right with a paraglider laid out just visible

Back in Annecy, we did more climbing and a great hike and fly from Col des Frettes where we also met a lady and her paragliding dog. Not far from Chamonix we then participated in a small festival called 'Vol Libre, Flying Light' which is all about hike and fly. We met some really lovely people there (we seemed to be the only non-French participants!) and did a really lovely hike and fly with them from Mont Vorassay, landing in St Gervais. All in all, it was a jam-packed trip with lots of variety.

Freda du Faur Centenary Climbing and a Film Shoot

Freda du Faur Centenary Climbing and a Film Shoot

 Gemma (foreground) and Vanessa during a traverse of several peaks from Sefton bivvy to Copland Pass

Gemma (foreground) and Vanessa during a traverse of several peaks from Sefton bivvy to Copland Pass

In December 2010, we headed to New Zealand with Vanessa Wills, to climb in the Mt Cook region and also to participate in celebrations organised by the New Zealand Alpine Club, in honour of the 100th anniversary of the ascent of Mt Cook/Aoraki by Freda du Faur. Not only was Freda the first women to climb Mt Cook, she was the first Australian to climb it, and later, with her companions and guides Peter and Alex Graham, also made the first traverse of the three summits of Mt Cook.

Freda made many other first ascents in New Zealand, and although convention at the time dictated that she climb with guides, she was a climber in her own right, sharing the leading and decision making. She had a great affinity with the mountains, and she truly is Australia's first mountaineer.

With Vanessa and Marty Beare, we planned to repeat Earle's Route which Freda and her guides climbed Mt Cook by, but conditions were quite different from 100 years ago, and the melting glacier meant we couldn't even get to the start of the route. We still did some great climbing, including the Footstool and a traverse from Sefton Biv over Cadogan Peak, Du Faur Peak (both first ascents by Freda), and Madonna Peak to Copland Pass. 

While we were in Mt Cook village enjoying the NZAC centenary celebrations, Carla Braun-Elwert was shooting a short film about Freda and we got to feature in it, talking about Freda as an inspiration to us and our climbing. The film, called 'Sparks Fly Upwards', was shown at the NZ Mountain Film Festival for 2011.

Bali Paragliding

Bali Paragliding

A popular destination for Aussie and Japanese tourists, Bali also offers some fantastic coastal soaring for paraglider pilots. We passed up Kuta, and the usual hair-braiding, sarong-wearing, tacky wooden carving buying, sunburnt skin experience, for some airtime at Timbis in the very south of the Bukit Peninsula. We learnt a lot about ridge-soaring, strong-wind launches, and top-landings (landing at the same place you took off from).

We met some nice people, both locals and visiting pilots, and were pleasantly surprised to find that even though Bali is the overexploited tourist destination it is, the Balinese are still so deeply rooted in their culture and traditions, and are genuinely friendly.

Australian Geographic Awards Night

Australian Geographic Awards Night

A fun and glamorous night was had at the annual Australian Geographic awards at the Sofitel in Sydney, MC’d by Sorrel Wilby. We received the ‘Spirit of Adventure’ award in recognition of our climbing achievements in the Indian Himalayan Himachal Pradesh region where we made several first ascents. As such, we enjoyed dinner, drinks, luxury accommodation in the hotel, interviews, and a photo shoot with a great big Olive Python around our necks!

We were thrilled to receive the award as we were in company with some worthy recipients in the fields of adventure and conservation, including Andrew Lock who received Adventurer of the Year after his achievement of becoming the first Australian to climb all 8000m peaks.


Canadian Climbing

Canadian Climbing

With friends living in Squamish extolling the wonders of Canadian climbing, it seemed like an obvious place for a relaxing climbing holiday. We initially spent 10 days in Squamish in fantastic weather - we later found out this was unusual as Squamish gets crazy amounts of rain. We climbed at a few of the areas here, but 'The Chief' is the... well, Chief of the area, with striking multi-pitch lines on friendly granite. Of course being our first time here, we had to climb the classics. And classic they were which is why it's understandable that these routes are so popular - there were usually parties in front and behind us on most routes. 

One of our must visit climbing destinations was the Bugaboos where we went next. Granite towers of incredible rock in an alpine environment is right up our alley! After 'critter-proofing' our vehicle in the carpark, we hiked up the normally pleasant trail up to Applebee Campground - not so pleasant in the rain with ridiculously heavy packs. Of course we had designs on the classics here too, such as the Beckey-Chouinard Route on the South Howser Tower, but the weather was not very accommodating during our time there, and we had to settle for shorter routes closer to camp in between spells of bad weather, and less committing routes. One of these routes close to camp was 'McTech Arete', and due to the inclement weather, quite a few parties had the same idea. This meant there was a bit of a wait, and by the time we'd climbed the first pitch, it bucketed hail so we retreated. Next day, second try, and although we got on the route earlier, it dumped hail on us again after the first pitch! Third time lucky - we actually climbed all five pitches. It still snowed on us however, but at least we'd made it to the top before this and just had to rappel down. 

 On the easy but spectacular West Ridge of Pigeon Spire, Bugaboos

On the easy but spectacular West Ridge of Pigeon Spire, Bugaboos

One option we had in the given conditions was the easy climb of Pigeon Spire by the West Ridge. Some crevassed terrain to negotiate, and then we were up among the towers by ourselves. With cloud around Pigeon Spire, we couldn't see much of it, but as we climbed the cloud swirled around and cleared giving us tantalising views - it was very atmospheric! We made a few other climbs in the Bugaboos, but our time and food ran out before better weather came, so we had to leave.

We made short visits to climb at crags in Lake Louise and Skaha (Penticton), and then finished off back in Squamish. On our very last day in Canada, we managed to climb the 'Split Pillar' which Tash did a great job of leading as it was on her 'must-do' list of routes. There were a few pitches of climbing just to get to this classic line, and as we had to drive to Seattle that day, we rappelled off after the 'Split Pillar' pitch. It was definitely a stunning pitch and a lovely finish to the trip.

Thailand Sport Climbing

Thailand Sport Climbing

After our India Himalayan expedition, we stopped off in Thailand for a couple of weeks of sport climbing - nothing like steep, pumpy limestone tufas and flowstone to get strong again after a mountaineering trip! It was hot and humid, and plenty of mosquitoes when climbing in the jungle, but the beaches, food, and of course the climbing, were fantastic. We also went out on a boat for some deep-water soloing which was lots of fun but a bit intimidating when you get high and know it's a long way down before you hit the water.

Europe Road Trip 2006

After our remote alpine expedition to Greenland, we spent a couple of weeks gobsmacked at the incredible landscapes in Iceland, and then enjoyed cruising around Europe in our yellow VW van, clipping bolts and enjoying local wines and other delicacies.

From August to December 2006 we climbed at some classic European crags, including Fontainebleau, Ceuse, Verdon, Gorge du Tarn, Gorge d'Ardeche, Seynes (France), the Dolomites, Arco (Italy), Riglos and Montanejos (Spain). 

In the Bin Film Festival

In the Bin Film Festival

What a nice birthday present for Tash - a trip to Queensland to watch the screening of her first short film 'Bouldering', about the shenanigans on a home woodie.

The film was well received with the audience laughing in all the right places, and Tash won the encouragement award.

Rarely Repeated Wolgan Valley Aid Route

Rarely Repeated Wolgan Valley Aid Route

The Wolgan Valley in New South Wales is an amazing place to climb, but deeper in the area lurks an obscure aid route on some dubious rock with an epic approach and descent - sounds like an adventure, right? The 260m route 'Big Glassy' certainly was, and as our friend Chris Fitzgerald had racked up more aid climbing routes by this stage, we thought what better companion to have on a climb that guarantees an epic.

The route turned out to be looser and sketchier than we thought, and the mostly bolted anchors mentioned in the guidebook for the 10 pitches, were few and far between, and many of the ones that were there, were loose. 'Epic' status continued as the long climb crept into the night, we ran out of water, and just shy of the top we slept in a cave until the next day dawned. The descent took some hours and was its own adventure with abseils down a canyon.
 

Ozymandias Direct

Ozymandias Direct

In late 2003 with one short aid climb under our belts, we were keen to try something bigger - 'Ozymandias Direct', a 10 pitch, 271m route on the North Wall of the gorge at Mt Buffalo in Victoria. Chris Fitzgerald also joined us on this climb, having barely done much more aiding than us.

With home-made gear, barely a clue about big-walling, and an epic descent into the gorge, our first attempt was thwarted by rain. However, success came on our second attempt with sunnier and much hotter weather. We climbed the route over a leisurely three days, with an overnight on the route's infamous Big Grassy Ledge.