“Punks in the Gym” – The Australian Story
“Punks in the Gym” is the iconic Australian rock climb… It was a bolted by a local Australian climber and freed by the legendary Wolfgang Gullich in the mid 80’s becaming the world’s first climb graded f8b+/32 which at the time made it the hardest rock climb in the world! I first heard about it from one of my oldest friends, top Ozzy climber Logan Barber whilst on a trip to Ceuse (France) back in 2007! “Punks in the Gym” in the Australian climbing scene has become the route to do for every aspiring pro!
When I first tried the climb some of the moves felt really low percentage – I felt like I could fall of a lot and no doubt that would get frustrating very quickly! Every foothold is a smear of sorts, nothing is a perfect edge or blocky foothold like on limestone or other rock types. And the smeary feet aren’t just smears of friction’ they’re glassy making it even more improbable that your feet should stay there. There are several moves on the route that just feel so committing that you don’t want to do them for fear of failing. But you know you have to do them with a do or die attitude, the true “Amuerte” spirit otherwise you simply won’t make it!
On my first go, I did all the moves but found several sections of the route particularly challenging; namely the long section of sustained climbing from the half-way point through the famous “Bird-Bath” hold and into the upper head wall!
The famous move that has thwarted so many climbers! This crux move is probably the hardest singular move on the route, which follows about 6 fairly intense moves alongside “A LOT” of foot movements! The crux move itself is fine on it’s own, but it’s quite difficult to keep the percentage chance of success high as it requires good body tension to maintain constant pressure through your feet for the bad smeary foot placement. I was trying out various different foot placements before I discovered the best one – a left foot smear on a slightly friction based part of the rock which was slightly further left than what seems to be the most popular smear, which for me was causing a horrible barn-door effect. When I figured this beta out, I stuck the move first time from the ground and it was the attempt following that I sent! The sequence before this definitely tires you out, but luckily you get a really good rest beforehand, I even got a cheeky knee-bar, which I used a little bit. Crux 3: Horrible Slab from HELL!!!
The top vertical slabby section I found so hard on my first go! I liken it to a balancy Fontainebleau-style slab boulder problem right at the top of the route… The difficult part about this is the fact that it comes straight after the crux with no rest in between! As soon as you grab the “Birdbath” hold, you pull into a bad thumb sprag and again into a sharp gaston crimp! From here you do a series of very intense movements; one which involves a foot to hand on the “Birdbath” and then a couple of very small side-pull crimps. After that you are on the balancy slab bit which isn’t restful until you gain two small but positive edges on a sloping ledge. And even here, it’s not the best rest…
When I climbed the route the weather was so warm that I was greasing off these crossly edges and only had a short time to rest before having to press on into an extra few tricky moves. The last hard move is a high step into a positive but flat side-pull. The reason I hated this move was because the high step was onto a horrendous smear foothold which felt really dodgy! It just felt like it was going to blow off every-time. Luckily that never happened but it doesn’t mean it was any less scary 😛
I climbed it on my 3rd day after a rest day, but conditions for climbing hard routes was not in my favour. Temperatures were in the low 30’s, there was little or no wind and it was humid! I wasn’t feeling like I was climbing in the best conditions when I was on the wall, but I decided to give it my all anyway. I managed to get through the first crux pretty steadily and was feeling confident for giving the second crux a really good go! As I rested, eyeing up the following 6 moves that would decide whether or not I would get through into the final head wall, I felt a hot mist roll over me… You know that horrible feeling when your body is just overheating and you start to perspire extra quickly? Well that was happening, and so I chalked up loads and stepped it up a gear! Making sure my left hand was rested more than my right for pulling hard on the side-pull that I needed to gain the “birdbath” hold, I went for it!
Every move went perfect, I hit every hold exact and when I came to the “Birdbath” I set myself up, sat my body out from the wall ever so slightly and powered through my right leg pulling hard in on my left hand – I caught the “Birdbath” – YASSSSSS!!!
I knew I could do it right there and then! Not wasting any time I moved through the following “Crux No.3” sequence fluidly and even though I could feel the sweat dripping and my tips bursting under the sharp crozzles of the crimps, I moved regardless and placed every foot and hand in the exact sequence I had planned. Before I knew it I was resting on the final crimps before the dreaded “smear move”. I rested up for a couple of minutes making sure I was ready for it and then gunned it down! There was a moment when I was stepping high that I felt my body sink slightly but I sucked it in and pulled through!
When I grasped the jugs I was so relieved… I pulled up and made the final few moves to the chains – SUCCESS!!!
Climbing “Punks in the Gym” was an amazing experience for me… It’s one of those routes that you just have to try in your lifetime! It was such an amazing experience to be climbing on the same bit of rock that the best climber in the world 25 years ago was gunning for… especially when that guy was the legendary Wolfgang Gullich! Now having done the route for myself, I see why it inspired so many climbers over the years. It’s a beautiful piece of rock in an awe-inspiring setting. There are no crowds, few cars and no room for egos!
The way I like it – just you, the rock and a few friends to share experiences with…