Is it just about climbing?
This is not the usual kind of post that ends up on the CliffCare site. But at this time, when understandably the noise is very loud out there with regards to Grampians access issues – this speaks volumes. There is a quietness about this that we need. Take a moment to read, linger on a thought, feel the sadness and also get a sense of what the Grampians/Gariwerd means on many levels. Thank you Earl for sharing your thoughts about your loss and what the love of the park and climbing has given you.
Is it just about climbing?…
My perspective after 20 years as a climbing guide in the Grampians.
I write this in loving memory of my brother Ben Earl 15/08/73- 04/03/19, for my family and friends, the Traditional owners of Gariwerd (the Grampians), the climbing community and importantly to all the climbing guides and climbers in the world that may or may not know how important you are.
I do not consider myself as an articulate individual with words, nor a great story teller, though I hope you are able to read this and find something here that resonates for you.
Moving to the Grampians from the hustle of Melbourne in August 1999 to work as an outdoor adventure guide, I cemented a new love and passion for the Grampians and rock climbing. I had no idea of where this would take me, the people I’d meet, the life I’d live and the impact I’d have on people’s lives through my work.
This year is my 20th year as a guide here. My work has meant so much to me. Not just to support my life here, mainly to give my life the sustenance it requires. I like helping people in need. Always did.
I had worked with “at risk” youth and young adults many times and was able to easily connect and facilitate knowledge or learnings that would empower them and hopefully assist them in their life ahead.
But nothing had prepared me for the day when my brother called me from Beaufort, fuelling up his motorbike, just an hour down the road and said, “what are you doing?” It was summer around 2001. I said, “nothing much, what about you?” Ben replied “I’m on my way to Adelaide, I’ve a date with a truck! Thought I might stop by if your around?” “What do you mean, a date with a truck”. He replied, “ I’ll tell you when I see you.” “Awesome I’ll catch you soon then.” And he soon rode towards my abode in the bush, known to locals as “The Shack”. Waiting out on the road, I wave him into the the bush track that accesses the Shack. He didn’t know what to expect as he arrived to see my tent and the wooden shack that had no bathroom, no kitchen, windows but no glass, no power, no plumbing, no flat ground for his bike – after all it was just a shack. I place a piece of stringy bark under his bike-stand so it wouldn’t move in the sand and cause his bike to fall over. It was definitely an eye opener for him, from the hustle of Smelbourne (no harm intended) and suburban life to see me, set up at the Shack. Though once you arrive at such a place you start to connect back. Back to those primal roots embedded deep in us all, become calm, smell the bush and see through different eyes. “What did you mean when you said, a date with a truck” I asked? Ben then told me that he was going to ride his bike towards Adelaide into an on-coming truck and end his life! That he just decided for some reason to call me and perhaps to see me. This definitely took me by surprise to hear this. What could I do? How could I help him? I had helped many people, but none that I thought were suicidal. This was a big deal and he was my brother after all and us brothers connect, no matter what the situation is.
Only one thing to do. To take him climbing. I wanted to show him that there’s more to life.
To most non-climbers, I accept that you may think that taking someone climbing may not stop someone from being suicidal, or empower them through their depression or some other mental illness. But it was the only card I had to play. Climbing had changed my life; perhaps it’ll help with my brother’s.
So I took him to the local crag called the Watchtower and we walked steeply up to the base of the crag. His tobacco filled lungs had not felt this alive for some time. Just reaching the base and seeing what loomed above him was invigorating enough. I sensed him now though, with some excitement and amazement pumping through his heart as he did not know what to expect. I also saw that he was proud of me to have taken up such a passion.
I sort out the gear, we tie in and I start the ascent up the cliff to a position 25 meters above. I anchor myself and set-up so that Ben may safely ascend on the other end of the rope. For the 10-15 minutes as he climbed up towards me, he was out of my sight. He was just by himself, nothing else could matter – no history, no future, just him and his decisions, connected to the rock face, a relationship to the earth he had not felt before. And to then present himself at the top, to see the view around him and to see the world now through different eyes, this was more than clear to both of us. All that was needed from my brother was a nod, the recognition of a reset, a re-connection to the earth and himself.
This is what I call, “the real world” and I am fortunate to see this living and climbing in the Grampians/Gariwerd. I tell many people that to see the world through these eyes, looking out upon the real world – can change the way your see your life. That life you live with all the stresses, pain and complications can seem so far away. Perhaps unnecessary or without such challenge when seen from this perspective. Suddenly you may see differently.
Fulfilled with life, recharged and empowered, he rode back to Melbourne, sought the help he needed and carried on. Made a family with three amazing kids and continued to be a great Dad and friend to so many people around him.
Now 18 years later, I wish I had that opportunity before he made that final decision. To re-connect him to the real world and recharge his heart, empower his mind, take him on another climb to reunite him with the real world he had not seen for so many years.
This recent event in my life with him passing on, my role as a climbing guide and the current situation in the Grampians National Park regarding the profile of climbing and climbers, has inspired me to speak out about how important the role of a climbing guide or climbers can be. As we have helped so many people over so many decades reconnect themselves, rediscover the real world, become aware, empowered once again, see through different eyes to make their world and the world a better place and all this, through a simple climb! And for me, all this, in this amazing place, Gariwerd.
I do not intend to speak for all climbers, offend or disrespect anyone or peoples. Just in hope to share my knowledge or experiences, that a greater awareness may provide a positive light in the dark time I have experienced.
Gariwerd is such a special place. There’s no wonder so many people’s ashes have been cast here. I sincerely thank the Traditional Owners for their part in sharing Gariwerd with the greater community. I hope their culture will be kept intact and that all visitors will have only more awareness when visiting the Park. We need to respect the Traditional Owners. I’m sure they will love to know that all kinds of people have been touched deeply by climbing in Gariwerd. That the majority of climbers and the people they introduce to Gariwerd through climbing, would naturally give recognition to this land. Find an enhanced respect to the history here through climbing and have a heightened connection to the earth that is found atop of a cliff while looking out upon this aged landscape, where the modern world is not seen and the real world prevails.
To the Traditional Owners of Gariwerd, Parks Victoria, all climbing guides and climbers alike, I hope we can still benefit, save lives, reconnect people to mother earth and themselves through the spirit of Gariwerd and climbing for the years to come.
Earl. Business owner of Hangin’ Out, lover of Gariwerd, helping people and rock climbing.
Please help broaden peoples understanding of climbing and share with your friends