Glenn Tempest and the Arapiles

By James McCormack 31 July 2012
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Pioneer adventurer Glenn Tempest was the first to climb the Kachoong, Arapiles.

SCALING THE HIGHEST HEIGHTS was a passionate pursuit of Glenn Tempest’s but when he heard that famous American climber Henry Barber had set up a heart-stopping new route called Kachoong, Glenn just couldn’t resist the challenge to upstage him.

“Everything that gets done is done because of the other people that came before you. And climbing especially so. It’s built on the old-timers, and the people that did the classics. On people who used old clothes lines and old climbing boots. They used to put clinkers on, old metal edges, so they could grip better. Generations repeat those routes, and wonder how the hell those old-timers did it. Every climber should remember that. That’s why they’re climbing at that standard.”

Kachoong was a mistake. Or bullcrap. Or both. It was 1977, and Glenn Tempest had been climbing for just four years. His father had been a climber; for precisely that reason, Tempest, for most of his life, had not wanted to climb. But at 15, he changed his mind.

Not long after starting, he teamed up with Kevin Lindorff. Where Glenn had upper-body strength, Kevin had style and finesse. And while Kevin excelled on thin faces, Glenn revelled in overhangs and grunty routes. By ’77 the pair had grown into one of Victoria’s stronger climbing combinations.

It was, remembers Glenn, a golden age of climbing. “But,” he adds, “everyone thinks their era is the best.” Still it was the time when many of Australia’s greatest climbing luminaries were hitting their strides. Kim Carrigan, Mike Law, Greg Child, Chris Piesker. And Glenn Tempest and Kevin Lindorff.

Henry Barber and the Arapiles

Greg had come into the Pines – Arapiles’ legendary camping ground – raving about an “easy” Henry Barber route. Henry, an American, had visited Australia a few years earlier on holiday. He was the first overseas star to go to Arapiles and in the process revolutionised climbing there, pushing grades a quantum leap.

“No climber has ever done in six weeks what Henry Barber did. I wasn’t climbing at the time. But the older climbers who saw him climb were gobsmacked. We were young and thought we were just great, and there were a couple of years there where all we wanted to do was knock off his routes.”

Among the numerous new routes Henry put up was Kachoong. But where the route nowadays goes straight up through the roof, Henry’s route (now referred to as Kachoong’s right-hand variant) avoided the overhang. When Greg sat around the campfire saying Kachoong via the roof was soft for the grade (21), Glenn and Kevin couldn’t resist knocking off another Henry Barber. What they didn’t know was that Greg was joking.

Climbing the Kachoong route in the Arapiles

The next day Glenn and Kevin, both suffering from colds, went off to climb it. Arapiles in those days was very different. You could drive cars right to the cliffs, and climbers sometimes belayed off their bonnets. Not that there were many belay devices to be seen. The Sticht plate had only just been invented, and there was great debate in the Pines as to whether the new devices would pull you up too quickly. Most climbers instead did as Glenn and Kevin did that day; belayers simply wrapped the rope around their waists to provide the necessary friction.

The pair stood beneath the wall of orange rock that ended in a massive roof. Glenn thought it looked terrifying. But Greg’s description of “buckets the size of toilet seats” gave them confidence. Glenn, whose style suited the overhang, took the lead, and worked his way up the Grade 18 wall, coughing and spluttering all the way. When he hit the roof, he placed a massive hex for protection at the back of the roof, clipped it with a long sling, and just jugged out straight across the ceiling.

The holds were huge. Greg had been right; there was no hold that was less than a jug. It was like swinging across a set of school monkey bars. But Glenn didn’t place any protection as he jugged out into the void. Rope dangled back to that last piece of placed gear; a fall would result in a massive pendulum slam into the wall.

“My nose started running and my eyes began to water. Hanging by first one arm and then the other, I tried to wipe my face, creating a slimy paste of chalk, tears, sweat and snot. Down below, Kevin was loudly blowing his nose. Not good. In those days, before the luxury of belay devices, we simply gripped the rope around our waist. Blowing your nose and holding the rope at the same time was simply not possible. But I was 19 and invincible.” (As quoted in Arapiles: A Million Mountains)

To his relief, Glenn found a big bucket at the lip of the roof. It’s what Araps is about, says Glenn; reaching up for a famous jug that you know is going to come up. Thinking, “God, this is fantastic,” he then heel-hooked his way on to the upper face, raced to the top, and waited for Kevin to follow.

All the way back to the Pines the pair kept saying, “That was AMAZING!”  They knew immediately it was a three-star route. But Arapiles has many three-star routes. Even so, as Glenn says, when you open a page [nowadays] and you see someone jugging across Kachoong, you just can’t help but go I wanna do that!

The pair told Greg about their climb. “You went through the roof?” exclaimed Greg. “I was joking!”

“What?” asked Glenn. “Yeah, it’s a new route,” replied Greg.

The new route was initially called the left-hand variant. But over time, it became Kachoong, and Henry Barber’s original route became the right-hand variant.

“There are a whole lot of better routes at Arapiles than Kachoong. But you can’t change the fact it’s an icon. Probably because it’s so photogenic, with that much space, that much clarity of where the route goes. We were just really lucky getting [it]. I wouldn’t have done it if Greg hadn’t had sandbagged us. There were at least a dozen other climbers around that day who could have led that climb, and I’m just pretty pleased that I got it.”

Source: Australian Geographic Outdoor March/April 2010