UKC

Welcome to the Blue Mountains Destination Guide

© Adam Kubalica

Welcome to the Blue Mountains, a world heritage site entwined in Aboriginal legend (and climbing legend too!) In the "Blueys" as they are affectionately known, an awesome session at the crag can be followed by a delicious pastry at the nearby cafés and the variety of trad, sport, single pitch and multi-pitch adventure will keep even the most energetic "crusher" entertained for weeks. Here you will climb above beautiful, eucalyptus-shrouded valleys on perfect honey-coloured sandstone. You will hear Kangaroos go thumping away into the bush as you walk in to the crag and you will encounter some of the most famous and classic climbs in Australia. You can explore, climb hard or relax and if nothing else, admire the quirky wildlife and subtle blue mists that rise from the eucalypti, giving the Blueys their name.

Barden's Lookout  © Adam Kubalica
Barden's Lookout
© Adam Kubalica

If you ask a British climber about the best climbing down under, many will shout "Arapiles" or "The Grampians." But if you can find the time and money to make a climbing trip to Oz, I recommend you add the Blue Mountains to the list. I visited the Blueys as part of a longer tour around Australia and only intended to stay for a few days or a week at most. That plan soon exploded as I found myself pleasantly entrapped by this world heritage site. It was hard to leave a place where there was so much to explore. Thousands of routes spread over fifty crags, each with their own distinctive character. One crag reminded me of a scene from The Lord of the Rings, with rock faces scattered around a secluded dell, and a stream gurgling below my feet as I climbed.

Another crag was completely different; soaring sandstone monoliths hundreds of metres high where base jumpers launched themselves from the summits and the wind whipped across a wild and beautiful valley. Even on the rest days you can keep exploring; hiking (or bush walking as the Ozzies call it) past waterfalls and down rough tracks hewn in the valley side by the pickaxes of some of the first white settlers in Australia. And when you're not out adventuring, there are museums, cinemas and the famous café culture to help you while away that rest day.

photo
The Three Sisters
© JJ Harrison

The mountains are actually one giant plateau, with numerous gorges formed by rivers carving up the soft sandstone. The honey coloured cliffs were the final frontier for white explorers seeking a way into the Australian heartland and that tradition of exploration had passed on to the climbers, mountain bikers and hikers who are drawn to this national park. Solitude and society go hand in hand in the Blueys; one moment you can be completely alone hiking through some quiet corner of the bush; the next you can be amidst the bright lights of the romantically named "Cities of the Blue mountains," (actually small towns) which are full to bursting with quirky cafés, restaurants and bakeries and are a great place to unwind after cranking hard at the crag.

photo
Immaculate sandstone at Shipley Upper
© Adam Kubalica

So...tell us about the climbing!

100km West of Sydney, the Blueys have over three thousand sport, trad and mixed climbs spread over fifty-five crags. One of the main challenges of a trip there may be trying to cram it all in! The rock here is sandstone, so there is a lot of dead-vertical climbing with crimpy edges, horizontal breaks and good friction. Climbers can develop very strong fingers here (and probably lose a fair bit of skin in the process!) There is also a good smattering of overhanging routes and even stellar crack climbing with bomber jams from bottom to top. Don't aspect the jugs and pockets of Spanish limestone though – the emphasis in the Blueys is about neat footwork and strong fingers on the many breaks, edges and crimps.

Part of the fun is trying to translate the unique Australian grading system to the French sport or English traditional systems. The Australian is simple – starting at 1 it increases sequentially to around 35. I still haven't found a conversion table I agree with, which adds a bit of spice to on-sighting "within your grade!"

Typical Blue Mountains climbing - vertical and crimpy!  © Adam Kubalica
Typical Blue Mountains climbing - vertical and crimpy!
© Adam Kubalica

Climbing is split between fully bolted sport routes, mixed routes (which are partly bolted but will require some gear) and traditional climbing. There are far more sport routes than anything else, and these are generously bolted with glue-in "U" or Ring Bolts. The majority of the crags are single pitch with twin bolt lower-offs at the top (even on the traditional routes!) There are also a few epic crags with six to eight pitch multi-pitch giants, which is allways exciting after a few days of laid back cragging.

A few routes are equipped with Carrot Bolts, a unique Australian invention where you place your own hanger as you go! But these are far outnumbered by the sport climbs, so can easily be avoided.

To describe every crag here would be a mammoth task, so the next section will focus on some premier crags which showcase a particular style or character (e.g. overhanging powerful stuff.) For each crag mentioned, there will be several more of the same style too.


The Crags

Shipley Upper

Style/ character: Vertical crimpy stuff.

Sport, Trad or mixed: Sport

The climbs have almost as many stars as the milky way, there is a buzzing social atmosphere and an easy walk-in. This is the crag to tick off a few classics, shred some skin and meet new friends! Most grades on the spectrum are covered, so newbies and hard men and women swarm here alike. Bolting is impeccable, even excessive, so this is a very safe place to climb. It's also very close to three other quality crags; Centennial Glen, Porters Pass & Shipley Lower and is easily accessed by car and public transport.

Recommended routes:

Lardy Lady's Lats (22)

Hot Flyer (23)

Loop the loop (25)

Clockwork orange (20)

Similar crags:

The Freezer, Sublime point (the single pitch areas)

Deep into the bush  © Bernard Stricker
Deep into the bush
© Bernard Stricker

Mt. Piddington

Style/ character: Crack climbing par excellence

Sport, Trad or mixed: Mainly trad and mixed, interspersed with a few sport climbs

This crag is renowned for one thing - splitter cracks! Double or even triple up on those cams and expect sustained jamming from base to top-out. Your fingers may not get much of a workout at "Pido" as the locals fondly call it, but your biceps certainly will. Many of the route names at Pido echo through the hallways of Australian climbing history, such The Janicepts (21) once the hardest traditional climb in Australia. In amongst all these classic trad lines are some seriously good (and sometimes seriously hard) mixed and sport climbs and together they make this a crag with every flavour of climbing.

Recommended routes:

The Eternity (18)

The Janicepts (21)

Psychodrama (22)

Flake Crack (17)

Royal Doulton (23)

Similar crags:

Mt York, Cosmic county, Mount Boyce

Pierces Pass

Style/ character: Multi-pitch adventure.

Sport, Trad or mixed: Mainly sport.

Tired of single pitch cragging? Want a more adventurous day out? Then go to the beast of the Blueys, crammed with epic routes hundreds of meters long, set above one of the most beautiful and remote valleys of the mountains. Be prepared for more commitment and a big day out which will be hard to forget. Check out Hotel California (22), a 350m sport route weaving its way from the bottom to the top of the cliff, with heaps of exposure along the way.

Recommended routes:

Bunny Bucket buttress (18)

Hotel California (22)

Smegadeath (23)

The West Face of the Mirrorball (19)

Weaselburger (23)

Similar crags:

Sublime point, The Fortress

Sarah crushing it and looking forward to cider at Barden's lookout.  © Bernard Stricker
Sarah crushing it and looking forward to cider at Barden's lookout.
© Bernard Stricker

Bell Supercrag

Style/ character: Overhanging, powerful stuff.

Sport, Trad or mixed: Mainly sport.

Bell is an up-and-coming mega crag, with lashings of routes at an angle on the gnarly side of vertical. Climbers operating at the Australian grade 24 (French 7a) and upward will get the most from a visit here. The approach is a little longer than the more popular crags near the towns, but the extra effort pays off, for the magnificent scenery as well as the superb, pumpy climbing.

Recommended routes:

Paint God (25)

Autophagocytosis (27)

Ms. G's Cheesburger Springroll (27)

Similar crags:

Centennial Glen, Porters pass

Dam Cliffs

Style/ Character: Easier, short routes in a fantastic setting.

Sport, Trad or mixed: Sport.

For the beginner climber, or for those looking for a more relaxed session, head to the Dam Cliffs area. Tucked away in a dell that looks like the setting from The Lord of the Rings movies, the clusters of small crags make a great escape from the crowds. The routes are absolutely plastered with big holds, providing plenty of easy ticks for the newbie or those on an "active rest day." The mossy river banks make a perfect place for a picnic too and if you're really keen, you can even have a shot at the deep water soloing in the nearby Dam.

Recommended routes:

A tale of two cities (18)

The Sister's of Fatima (16)

Stormin Norman (18)

Little Diego (19)

Similar crags:

Medlow Bath, Barden's lookout

Joel "frothing" at the prospect of multi-pitch adventures at Pierces pass  © Bernard Stricker
Joel "frothing" at the prospect of multi-pitch adventures at Pierces pass
© Bernard Stricker

Cosmic County

Style/ Character: A crag of variety with something for everyone!

Sport, Trad or mixed: All three!

This crag has a bit of everything, Sport climbing on bolts and carrots, top-notch crack climbing and even some mixed climbing if you're so inclined. Blue Mountains legend, Mike Law, brought his flair for putting up inspiring and tough lines to Cosmic county and the quality of the routes shows it.

The walk-in winds through a quiet and beautiful corner of the bush which gives this crag a more tucked-away "secret garden" sort of feel. It's also very close to another crag "The Freezer" which has a selection of more challenging routes (and a hilarious log-traverse approach.) Cosmic County is a good place to come with a larger party as all the variety means there are options to suit most people's taste for style and difficulty. The "Memory Lane" area is a good place to start, with its density of high quality routes, with traditional crack climbs within a stone's throw of crimpy slab climbing. Look out for another insanely good crack climb, Interstate 31 (17)!

Recommended routes:

Interstate 31 (17)

Comfortably numb (21)

Barbarossa (21)

The Eighty minute hour (18)

Similar crags:

Mt. York, Mt Piddington, Barden's lookout. There's a slice of every crag in Cosmic county!

Logistics

When to Go

Spring (September to November) and Autumn (March to May) are best, with sunny days but a chill at night, so bring a few layers. Remember that the Blueys are around 1000m above sea level so the temperature never hits the breath-taking heat of coastal Sydney. This means climbing in summer (Dec – Feb) is also a possibility, though you may find yourself seeking shady crags at times. I was there throughout the whole of May and we climbed in T-shirts during the day but huddled around the fire in the evenings.

Getting There and Gettiung Around

To get to the Blueys, fly to Sydney International and either rent a car and drive directly to the Blueys (about two hours) or take the excellent and cheap train service from Sydney central which stops at every major town in the Mountains. Since the crags are so spread out, and some quite far from the nearest town, a car is essential to make the most of your time in the Blueys. At the time of writing, there is a Hertz car rental company in Katoomba.

Accommodation Advertise here

No Premier Listings found in this area

There are places to suit every budget and taste in the Blueys, from free bush camping and budget hostels, to modest and even luxury hotels. My recommendation would be to find something in Katoomba or Blackheath, which are two "Cities of the Blue Mountains." They are both conveniently close to the climbing and offer camping and cabins, guesthouses and hotels.

For the thrifty backpacker, I recommend the free campsite at Mt. York, which is literally on top of a number of crags. See this website for more Bush camping; it's a long walk to Mt. York, so a car is particularly handy for this spot. Make sure you say hello to the eccentric and friendly resident dirt bag there – Macca!

Rest Days

The Blueys are a national park and a world heritage site, and as such they are great place to visit, even without the stellar climbing. The bush walking is renowned in the country, with historical trails passing tumbling waterfalls and peaceful forest of eucalypti. A more relaxed day could be spent visiting the seemingly endless bakeries and cafes in every town, or even a day trip to the beaches of Sydney. But if this also gets too much you can always escape back into the peace of the bush.

My personal recommendation is the old-school cinema at Mt. Victoria where you can watch the latest films in a vintage theatre while having tea and biscuits! The "Hotel Imperial" pub in Mt. Vic is also legendary. You will understand if you go.

Guidebooks

Simon Carter's book Blue Mountains Climbing (2015) is the definitive guide to the area, with incisive descriptions, clear, well laid out Topos and a dash of classic Aussie humour. There are several other guides available, but these are less comprehensive and tend to focus just on sport climbing or feature only a selection of climbs.

Gear

Katoomba has several gear shops, with the best being Paddy Pallins for the knowledgeable staff and range of gear. For Brits, gear will seem very expensive in Australia, so it's recommended to get everything you need back home. If you are hoping to do a route with the "Carrot bolts" you can easily pick up the hangers in any of the gear shops for a few dollars. For the traditional routes, make sure you bring plenty of cams because the cracks and horizontal breaks will eat these up.

Outdoor Shops Advertise here

No Premier Listings found in this area

Food

The cities of the Blueys are crammed with restaurants, cafes and bakeries, with cuisine as diverse as Thai and Korean! Why not try a delicious Kangaroo burger or, if all else fails, there is a bloody good kebab shop in Katoomba!

Instructor/Guides Advertise here

No Premier Listings found in this area

Climbing Walls Advertise here

No Premier Listings found in this area



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22 Dec, 2016
The Blue Mountains is a superb location. Getting a perfect winter days climbing (sunny, no wind, 5-10C) at Shipley Upper offers some magical friction on those delightfully crimpy routes. For those climbers who still qualify for a working holiday visa (i.e. not yet turned 31), spending a year working in Sydney with weekend/day off trips to the Blue Mountains is a really good option.
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