The Wheel of Life

DISCIPLINE: Bouldering
GRADE:  V15/8C
HEIGHT: 70ft (21m)
FIRST ASCENT: Dai Koyamada

The Wheel of Life, easily one of Australia’s most well-known climbs, is a mammoth 68 move roof traverse in the Hollow Mountain Cave in the Grampians, Victoria. At over 70ft in length, this classic testpiece blurs the line between bouldering, traversing, and sport climbing.

Image by Daniel Woods

The Wheel of Life Bio

When The Wheel of Life got its first ascent in 2004 by Dai Koyamada he proposed the boulder grade of V16/8C+. This would not only have made it the hardest problem in the Southern Hemisphere, but also the hardest boulder problem in the world, at the time. The Wheel would have matched the proposed grade of Mauro Calibani’s Tonino ’78 problem, established earlier in the same year. Although both problems are now widely considered to be in the V15/8C range, The Wheel of Life is still one of the most iconic and visually appealing climbs that can be found. 

The Wheel of Life links up four exciting problems and creates the most obvious line through the roof of the Hollow Mountain Cave. Starting at the bottom, the Wheel begins with X-treme Cool, (V8/V9) into a double kneebar rest. From there, it transitions into Fred Nicole’s Sleepy Hollow (V11/V12) requiring powerful compression moves and intricate foot sequences. 

After that, it’s onto an easier Cave Man (V9), consisting of approximately 20 moves, with another kneebar rest in the middle.The final section, which is the crux sequence in the problem, moves into the final link-up of Dead Can’t Dance (V11/V12) climbing out of the cave and exiting out of Rave Heart (V8).

First Ascent – Dai Koyamada

After Fred Nicole unlocked the final piece of the puzzle, Sleepy Hollow, in 2000 it opened up the possibility for a complete link-up of the entire cave. In 2004, Dai Koyamada traveled to the Grampians in the intention of bagging the first link-up of the highly anticipated Hollow Mountain Cave problem.

Koyamada’s 50-day siege began by methodically working on each section of the problem. Eventually, after several weeks of dialing in beta and working the crux sequences, Koyamada claimed the first ascent of the roof. He did so without the use of a knee pad and spent almost 10 minutes on the climb. He awarded the problem the grade of V16, making it one of the hardest problems in the world at the time.

Second Ascent – Chris Webb Parsons

The first repeat of The Wheel of Life came at the hands of the Australian professional climber Chris Webb Parsons, now known as Taylor Parsons. Claiming an ascent of The Wheel had been a goal of Tylors for years prior to bagging the ascent. 

Being an Australian native, Taylor had spent her fair share of time in the Grampians, despite it being over a 13-hour drive away from her home. In 2007 alone, Taylor had made multiple trips to the Cave, and had even made ascents of a smaller link Dai set up called Sleepy Rave on the 4th of September 2007. After returning later in the month for an attempt at The Wheel, Taylor wasn’t able to make a full link-up, despite coming frustratingly close and falling 12 times on the final section of the link up. 

In mid-October, Taylor returned on a 4 day trip to the Grampians with the intention of claiming an ascent of the Wheel. On the first day, after only a quick warm-up, Taylor stuck every move perfectly and claimed her long-awaited first repeat of the line.

Third Ascent – Ethan Pringle

Almost three years after Parsons’ ascent, The Wheel would get another repeat by Ethan Pringle. Pringle was recovering from a string of injuries that had hampered early success on Jumbo Love as well as the ABS Nationals the year prior. 

Nevertheless, Pringle showed his return to form after making quick work of The Wheel, spending only four days working the problem. He was also the first climber to suggest giving the problem a sport climbing grade, offering a personal grade of 5.14d/9A. 

The decade since Pringle’s repeat has seen 9 other climbers bagging an ascent of the coveted line. James Kassay was next after Pringle who, two months after his repeat even went to establish The Wheel of Life Direct,  starting from a lower point in the cave and adding an additional 10 moves to the end, exciting out of Amniotic World (V9), the highest part of the cave.

Ascents

Date of AscentClimberSuggested GradeNotes
2004-05-12Dai Koyamada8CVideo
2007-10-13Christopher Webb-Parsons8CVideo
2010-06-24Ethan Pringle9a/9a+Video
2011-09-07James Kassay8C+Wheel Direct FA
2011-09-30Benjamin Cossey8B+
2012-06-08David Graham9a+
2012-06-17Ian Dory9a+Video
2013-07-06Alexander Megos9aDMM Article
2013-07-23Daniel Woods9aVideo
2015-11-04Jorg Verhoeven8CInstagram Post
2016-05-28Alex Barrows8B+/9a (Soft)Blog Post
2017-10-20Thomas O'Halloran8B+Video
2019-03-09Jake Bresnehan8CLa Sportiva Interview

Media

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