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Chockstone Forum - Find Climbers

Find Climbers In Your Area

Topic Date User
Climbing around Alice Springs Tuesday, 8 April 2014 At 11:49:06 PM IdratherbeclimbingM9
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Extract from, Classic climbs Of Australia, by Joe Friend; Second Back Row Press; 1983.


Chambers Pillar.

Location: On the edge of the Simpson Desert, 165 kms south-west of Alice Springs.

Access: From cars, up talus and scree to the west face – 15 minutes. Permission may be required from National Park authorities.

Grade: 14 M4

Vertical Height: 30 metres.

Equipment: A full selection; Friends would be ideal in addition. Consider taking your own bolt drill and hammer for anchors.

Route Outline: More or less direct, exiting right (second pitch) on rotten rock.

First Ascent: John and Helen Griffiths with Keith Seddon (1973).

Summary: A superb introduction to desert sandstone, if you like Arizona!

Note: There are difficulties with escape – don’t trust the blocks at the top.

In the dreamtime an old man came from the east. He was powerful and very strong and had been able not only to defend himself, but also to seize a number of women (who were forbidden to him by tribal law) and force them to go away with him. He settled down among the sandhills on the edge of the Simpson Desert and it was on this spot that his body was transformed into a column of stone.
The women were fashioned into castellated hills nearby.

The Aranda name for the pillar is 'Iturkaworra' (iturka paira = penis, worra = evil) meaning 'place of the adulterous male'; it is used as a term of contempt, being applied to a man who has connections with women of the wrong origin. The name has been variously corrupted to form 'Etirkaura' and 'Itirkawourra', the area now being known as 'Idracowra'.

This remarkable phallic symbol, which can be seen from miles away when approaching from the south, served as a navigational aid for many white explorers. It rises up from the edge of the Simpson Desert approximately 165 kilometres south-west of Alice Springs. The pillar and its immediate surrounds have been listed for a number of years as a reserve by the Northern Territory Reserves Board (now the Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife Commission).

In 1973 we found it difficult to get suitable information about the rock and the track that leads into the area. After borrowing two maps we were rather disconcerted to discover that each map marked Chambers Pillar in a different position! These inaccurate maps were the cause of our taking much longer to reach the pillar on our first trip, not arriving until after dark. In the full moonlight, the pillar, a black silhouette towering upwards from its pyramid base, appeared monstrous and unreal.
After watching the rock change from red to yellow-orange with the rising sun next morning, we were perturbed to find that in broad daylight our wonderful column had shrunk considerably. We had become used to climbing on the hard quartzite of the MacDonnell Ranges near Alice Springs and the discovery that the pillar consisted of an ancient, crumbling sandstone was disappointing. The foot of the pillar was being constantly battered by the desert wind to form the honeycomb patterns typical of sandstone erosion.

We must have been slightly mad to go back for a second attempt, but John Ross's assertion that it was 'impossible to get to the top' of Chambers Pillar was too tempting to be ignored. Also we were urged on by the knowledge that Andrew Thomson and Keith Lockwood had completed 'Ngaltawaddi' on Ayers Rock the previous month. Looking back on it now, the climb was rather an anti-climax in some ways. We were so 'gripped' by the fragile, powdery rock, that we found it difficult to give an accurate technical grading.

The route follows a narrow, shaky-looking groove toward the northern end of the western face. There are three sections which can be done in one pitch; the first and third are 'free' and the middle section, mechanical. In the mechanical section, the rock was so soft that John Griffiths, who was leading, found it necessary to test each piton before putting his full weight onto it. As a second, I was alarmed to find that many of the pitons had been obscured by particles of sand which had worked loose from around the pegs and covered them. The third climber, Keith Seddon, was probably even more alarmed when he took a fall, one of the pitons having removed itself altogether.
There was a free move towards the top of the groove on the second section, after which it was necessary to place another peg in order to insert a small cracker in the overhang. Standing on the cracker it was possible to reach around to the right and place a peg. Only one more peg was used and then the top section, a crack and a flake, was climbed without mechanical aid. The rock on the top section was redder and a little more sound. It was a relief to find a large, broad ledge near the summit and a boulder belay.

The descent (abseil) was just as unnerving as the ascent, and the fact that the ropes jammed during the abseil and had to be ‘chopped’ seemed poor reward for our efforts. Iturkaworra had the last say, and like Giles in 1872, 'we turned our backs upon this peculiar monument, and left it in its loneliness and its grandeur – "clothed in white, mystic, wonderful".'

Helen Griffiths.


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