If you are considering a trip to Australia and the Mount Arapiles Destination Guide didn’t provide you with enough reasons to go, then fear not as there is another world class climbing destination under an hours drive away – the Grampians…
the best rock climbing destination in the world' – whilst I am not ordinarily into such sensationalist claims it has to be said that it's certainly up there on the list (alongside the other obvious choices: Pembroke, Pex Hill and Raven Tor…).
Back in reality and on to the crags: where Arapiles has 1000’s of routes within a single compact area, climbing in the Grampians is spread out across many different crags, within a vast wilderness area. The landscape is different too, with endless gum-tree forests and a distinctly wild feel, particularly when compared to the tamed agricultural landscape surrounding Arapiles. Finally, the rock – the magnificent rock – a sandstone of so many different colours, it is about as ‘perfect’ as any rock could be: both aesthetic to look at (it is so very, very red...) and a wonder to climb on. When I visited Australia for a month, I went primarily for the climbing at Arapiles, but fell in love with the Grampians – they’ve just got that something extra, something different, something special…
On the style front the Grampians are a diverse area - there’s bouldering, sport climbs, trad climbs and even mixed routes (featuring a blend of trad and bolts, not frozen turf...) - and as a result of these varied styles there are a number of guidebooks available:
The Grampians Bouldering Guide is a stunning and recent publication that outlines the masses of high quality problems within the area. The rock is almost identical to that found in South Africa's in-vogue destination Rocklands, but with only with a fraction of the number of problems having been developed - there is a lot, lot more to be found...
Grampians Climbing: Sport Crags
Grampians Selected Climbs
In terms of grade range it's hard not to have a spread when there are over 6000 routes within the area, but the creme-de-la-creme - in my opinion - is from 25 (UK E5 / French 7a) upwards, this gives you access to some of the best routes of their grade in the world. In the lower-mid grades there is still plenty to go at, but you have to pick your crags.
For some of the routes within the area, particularly the mixed climbs, it is worth taking a bolt plate or two for the carrots. By this I do not mean the orange vegetable, I mean the quirky Aussie bolting system. Personally, I loved them - they really added to the experience of each route I clipped them on. Bolts can be quite boring and forgettable to clip, not so with carrots - you remember each one vividly - the fumbling, the fear and the sheer awkwardness. Getting that bolt plate to fit over a 10mm hangerless hex headed machine bolt, then clipping it without knocking it off or falling off (!!) is about as trad as you could ever make the bolt clipping process. That said, for the same reason that I liked them, most people hate them... I wish I had got a picture of one whilst out there, but I was so scared clipping them that I didn't really have time to stop and relax. Go find out for yourself, I can assure you that it is an experience you won't forget...
With regards to access within the Grampians it is worth mentioning the roads: these are NOT your average countryside lanes. Whilst these lanes are possible with a standard hire car, they need to be handled with great care - particularly as the excess on Australian hire cars is usually in the region of $3000 (circa £1500). In fact, it is realistically worth getting car insurance insurance before you go out to avoid the potential write-off that could quite easily take place whilst getting to crags within the Grampians. The road to Eureka Walls in particular was quite shocking, be warned…
One other point worth mentioning regarding access revolved around the wild nature of the place. In Australia wildness = poisonous things and it is therefore worth considering approaching the crags wearing shoes/trousers rather than flip-flops/shorts and making a bit more noise than usual. Being bitten outright by an Eastern Brown would be highly regrettable (presuming you live to regret it) and following these basic rules should mean that at best you never see one or at worst, you are bitten and the majority of the bite is taken out by your trousers (which, according to locals, does make a difference).
© John Fletcher, Apr 1998
Thousands of people live in nearby towns and farm the rolling countryside surrounding the ranges. They are all, quite rightly, totally paranoid about wildfires and take total fire ban days very seriously indeed. Many of them are members of volunteer Country Fire Authority brigades. Fires have become more frequent and more devastating as climate has dried out. Country roads are often closed due to fire risk. Don’t even think of lighting campfires or dropping fag butts anywhere during the summer months — you don’t want to be punched up or sent to gaol, and it would not do your international reputation any good to be known as the stupid Pommy that burnt out the Stapylton Ampitheatre, Dunkeld or Halls Gap!
Whilst the Grampians are known primarily as the home of the legendary Taipan Wall. This colossal overhanging wall is indeed one of the finest crags within the world, but the quality is by no means isolated to Taipan alone - there are many other exceptional crags within the area. In particular:
I could go on naming more, but all I would be doing is listing out the guidebook index from A-Z...
One final piece of advice is to consider is staying at The Pines (i.e. Arapiles) throughout the duration of your stay, then day-trip over to the Grampians. Camping at Arapiles is significantly cheaper than in the Grampians and the distances to the between the two aren't so significant that they interfere with your day, or enjoyment of the trip, too much. When we did the calculations...very rough wine fuelled calculations...it seemed like far less hassle to make quick hits rather than pack up all our stuff and move on - we were on holiday after all!! Here are a few approximate times between the two areas:
Should your budget run to staying in a cabin, there are hundreds available in the nearby towns such as Halls Gap, Dunkeld or Cavendish. They range from basic sheds in a camping park to luxury suites with spas, located in landscaped gardens. Prepare to be gobsmacked by the price of B&B’s anywhere near the Grampians.
Whilst writing this article I received an email from Australian UKC User Steve Craddock who had - rather coincidentally - appeared within one of the historical shots within the Arapiles Destination Guide. Here's what he had to say about starting climbing within the Grampians (as well as a few cracking action-shots):
In a different setting, Rosea would be one of the world’s major crags. The problem is the vegetation. The enormous eucalypts on the slope up to the base hide the first two pitches from view, there’s scrub and full size trees on ledges on the crag, and the top is extremely scrubby, also. In general, the magnificent grey fine-grained sandstone is obscured, and the overall impression is chossy. Incidentally, in those pre-nut days, the trees and bushes were essential as belays.
In 1963, Greg persuaded a serious alpine climber, Herbert Schlipper, who’d done the Walker buttress, to join him on a visionary new route, Tourist Direct Buttress. This went at the unheard of grade 14 M2 (aid).
When we weren’t at Rosea, we were climbing on the Temple. This huge monolith, rarely visited these days (with good reason) offers weird mountaineering style rambles and in our day, numerous parties were benighted on the summit, from which there is no simple walk off, rather a scramble descent.The Temple is notable for the horizontal strata — dinner plates — which made protection laughable in the sixties.
The focus then went to the several cliffs of Eastern Wall, which rise more traditionally above scree, and offer mid-level crack and wall routes. At about this time, nuts were introduced for protection, and cracks became more appealing. My father, a toolmaker, drilled out many of the steel machine nuts that may still be found rusting away in remote Grampians cracks.
Bundaleer, a dark, hidden little cliff developed in 1964, was much more serious. If you ignore the heavy forest around it, this crag could resemble, at a stretch, a little Gritstone gem. It may be seen clearly, way across the forest, from the top of Rosea. My friends Peter Jackson and Rob Bull did a death march cross-country scrub-bash to it from Rosea, only to cross a nice sandy access road just near the foot of the crag.
Always in search of new crags and new routes, we moved on to Stapylton amphitheatre, a great beginner’s cliff in a splendid setting.Greg and I did several routes on the easier walls, but of course the real deal came later with climbing on the terrifyingly red Taipan Wall.
Mt Difficult, again with superb quality rock, deserves more attention. For some years I maintained a home-made guide to it as we added new routes.
Summerday Valley came towards the end of my climbing days, but I loved it. Sadly it’s presently closed because of bushfire until some heath grows back. Summer Day offers a microcosm of Grampians climbing. The short grey crack and buttress climbs resemble those on any of the big walls, while the surprisingly steep and smooth Wall of Fools offers mini versions of the top routes on overhanging faces like Taipan Wall.
Always restless, after the Grampians and pioneering the first routes on another crag you may have heard of called Arapiles, Greg and I moved our interests ‘overseas’ to Killiecrankie, which some would say is the best crag of all. It’s located on Flinders Island in Bass Strait, half-way between Wilsons Promontory and Tasmania.
Most visiting climbers will have been to Arapiles, I suspect, before trying the Grampians. The difference in scale and accessibility is simply enormous! Parallel ranges march off into infinity, sweeping on like breaking waves. Many cliff walks involve good long climbs, often with navigational challenges. Water is scarce in the summer, so always carry plenty. Don’t rely on wild camping. The Park managers are definitely moving towards banning it totally, in part because of sensible anxiety about naive campers starting fires.
When do I go?
Climbing within the Grampians is best throughout the Spring (late Sept - Nov) and Autumn (March - May). It is worth checking the fire risk whenever entering the Park as this can be a very real problem, bush fires frequently devastate the area and cause many of the climbing areas to close - Taipan was closed for a whole year after the last one! Check the Victoria Parks website before booking a trip to avoid disappointment.
Who flies where?
The easiest place to fly to is Melbourne which is a 3 hour drive away (a short distance by Australian standards). Qantas, Emirates, Malaysian Airlines, Etihad Airways all operate regular flights and availability shouldn't be a problem. As with all flights it's worth booking early to get the best prices, but all the more so with Australia because they're not cheap - £850 in 2014.
Where do I stay?
There are a two campgrounds within the Park, the Staplyton Campground in the North and Bundalik Campground in the South. Facilities at both are basic, very basic, with long drop toilets, picnic areas, fire pits and (if you’re lucky) a water tank with water in it. Whereas you would pay $5 per night for this privilege over at The Pines at Arapiles, you pay $17.50 per night within the National Park, therefore making staying within the area a little less appealing price-wise. Wild camping is permitted, but there are strict guidelines regarding distances away from roads, streams and existing campsites.
What's the scoff like?
Much like the camping, opportunities for eating out within the Grampians are somewhat limited. Halls Gap is realistically your best bet in terms of proximity and there are a number of cafes, bars, restraunts and hotels serving food.
Where can I buy gear and food?
It's best to stock up on food in Horsham where there is both an Aldi + Safeways. Should you have forgotten any camping equipment, or are in requirement of additional gas, the K-Mart should accommodate most of your needs. On the climbing equipment side of things it is worth mentioning that Australia is very expensive, so it's worth bringing everything out with you and more so to avoid the prohibitively high cost of any replacements. That said, the Mountain Shop in Natimuk is well stocked should anything be required.
What else is there apart from the climbing?
The Brambuk Aboriginal Cultural Centre in Hall's Gap makes for a very interesting (albeit sobering) experience, outlining the history of local population - a must for anybody visiting the area.
If animals are your thing then you could easily get lost for days on end, staring at the ridiculous wildlife - it really is amazing. Here you'll see it all: kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, platypus and endless flocks of cockatoos. Like Jurassic Park, only with more marsupials...
For those used to the finer things in life there are several wineries in the area, check out grampianswine.com.au for more details. I did extensive 'testing' of the Shiraz whilst out there...
Malcolm Phelps high up on 20th Century Fox, (grade 20) Mount Fox, Grampian Mountains Australia
© tim skinner
About the Author:
Rob Greenwood is the Advertising Manager at UKClimbing.com.
He's a passionate climber, hot yoga addict and eater of vegetarian food. He has done more UK trad routes than he's had roast dinners (and that's got nothing to do with the vegetarianism).
Aside from UK trad, he's dabbled with alpine climbing, Scottish winter, Himalayan climbing and more recently Peak limestone sport climbing.
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