Under the Milky Way: the low down on the Grampians, Australia’s Premier Cragging Area
By Ross Taylor
Twenty years climbing in the Grampians have given me many happy memories: the endless days under a vast, blue Wimmera sky, the wind whispering in the gum trees and always the hard sandstone at hand; the polished, immaculate red rock of Taipan Wall, the gritty grey sandstone of Bundaleer and all the rich hues in between. How to explain the bite of the sun in summer or the deep blue of the sky in winter, or the shimmering spill of the milky way, more infinite and achingly bright than you thought possible?
And then there are the routes: the magic of sandstone baked under millennia of sun, lapped by inland seas and polished by warm desert winds from the north. Is there any better medium for climbing than sandstone with its features that produce sequences that sometimes seem too perfect or outlandish? The words always fall short. You will have to visit yourself.
Driving up from Melbourne, the Grampians appear on the horizon as a low, green bulk. Getting closer, the features distil themselves: long ranges capped with ragged teeth of rock, fortress-like, the steeper cliffs bright orange and red, elsewhere grey turrets of sandstone. In Dreamtime – the Indigenous Australian story of creation – Gariwerd (the Indigenous name for the Grampians) was partly formed by a giant emu called Tchingal, who came across a crow called War, pecking at his egg (male emus care for their young). Enraged, Tchingal pursued War through the Grampians, driving great clefts through the range at Roses Gap and the Victoria Valley. While Tchingal came to an unhappy end, his passage left climbers a rich inheritance of crags. These days, the only really big animal left is the Giant Koala, which you will pass on the highway just before you turn off to the Grampians. Time and the elements have also had a hand in the creation of the Grampians, on what is geologically an ancient continent.
The Grampians are found in western Victoria, the southernmost state of mainland Australia. It has hundreds of crags and thousands of routes and boulder problems. There is world class trad climbing, superb sport climbing, as well as that classic Australian tradition, the mixed route (a mixture of bolts and gear). It is also home to some of the best steep bouldering in the universe. For trad climbers, the Grampians is a paradise with everything from high quality easy routes to some of the hardest trad lines in the land. Sport climbers are more limited, as you really need to be climbing 5.11 or harder to have a good time. Boulderers will find problems at all grades, including some of the hardest in the world. On top of this, Mount Arapiles is only a 45 minute drive away.
In an article like this it is difficult to cover an area of the size of the Grampians, which stretches north-south for 65 km. For simplicity, this article will start from the northern tip of the Grampians and work its way south, mentioning only the best areas.
Mount Stapylton is the most developed area in the Grampians and is where the majority of climbers spend their time. The crown jewel of the Grampians, Taipan Wall, is found here. It has some of the best routes in the universe, including the iconic Serpentine 5.13b, which was put by local legend Malcolm (HB) Matheson. To climb a route to the top of the wall you need to be climbing at least 5.11d, although there are some moderate first pitch routes with abseil stations. The most popular route on the wall is Mr Joshua 5.12b, which has some huge holds. A must to do is the wildly exposed last pitch of World Party 5.11d, which follows a sandstone runnel. There are too many good routes to name, but if you have the guns, try a few of these three star classics: Father Oblivion 5.12c, the massive dyno of Mirage 5.12d or the aptly named Groovy 5.13a. At the right end of the wall is a short sport crag called Spurt Wall which is home to a host of hard sport routes, from 5.11b to 5.14a, the best of which are Menstrual as Anything 5.12a, Lifestylin’ 5.13c and Who’s a Naughty Boy 5.14a. Spurt is a great place to go if it rains (which it rarely does), while Taipan as a whole is not a bad place in summer, as it stays in the shade up until 2.30 p.m.
Taipan Wall forms the right side of an amphitheatre and to its left are lot more moderate long multipitch routes, perfect for trad climbers. Some of the highlights are Simpleton 5.9, Missing 5.11c, Technical Ecstasy 5.10b and The Navigator 5.10d. Probably the most popular crag in the Grampians is Summerday Valley. Only five minutes from the car park, this friendly valley is full of moderate trad routes, and is where a lot of people first learn to climb. It is also a good place in summer because you can always find walls that are in the shade. For trad routes up to the low twenties (5.10d) this is a great venue with superbly featured grey sandstone.
From the same car park used to access Summerday Valley, there are a number of other good areas you can access, including Van Diemens Land and Sandinista Wall. Within this general area there are also a lot of other small areas, and the more recent ones tend to be sport crags. A bit further south you can find some great trad crags as well, including Mount Difficult and the Asses Ears.
Stapylton is the epicentre of bouldering in the Grampians. Most famously, it is home to the Hollow Mountain Cave, a massive but low cave which features what is probably the hardest (and longest) boulder problem in the world, Dai Koyamada’s Wheel of Life V16. The Cave has a lot of very hard steep problems, most of which are V8 and above. Some of the highlights include Wimmelfriedhof V5, Body Eater V8, Rave Heart V8, Amniotic World V9 and Dead Can’t Dance V12. If blocs are more your style, then you should definitely visit Andersons, which is on the way up to the Cave. Andersons has several hundred problems and is reminiscent of Fontainebleau, with its gritty grey sandstone. There are loads of great problems here, but a few of the classics are Beautiful Slopers V5, The Green Destiny V9, the high and scary Feverish V6, Lightning Arete V7, and the unique Peter Parker V5, which involves leaping from one boulder to the wall of another and sticking on like Spiderman before topping out a highball slab. There are a lot of other really superb areas, of which some of the best are Between the Sheeps, Trackside, the Campground Boulders (only five minutes’ walk from Stapylton Campground) and the Kindergarten (the best place to boulder when it is really wet).
Two of the best trad areas are found in the central Grampians, Mount Rosea and Bundaleer. Rosea is the Grampians’ biggest cliff and has a lot of classic multipitch trad routes up to 5.11c. Some of the best routes include Debutantes 5.8, Hard Times 5.10a, Martin Eden 5.10a and the Ascension 5.10d. Bundaleer is a shorter but no less imposing crag with powerful lines and beetling roofs. Most of the easier routes are trad, but a lot of the harder lines feature a mix of gear and bolts. There are some superb lines here, including Scarab 5.6, the magnificent corner of Blimp 5.10d, Pathos 5.11a, the route which keeps on coming, Dagon’s Temple 5.11b, the amazing hanging arete of Manic Depressive 5.12a and the very thin Touchstone Pictures 5.13a.
The most southern and western part of the Grampians is called the Victoria Range, it is a beautiful isolated area with some incredible climbing. Most unique is its cave climbing, which is some of the steepest rock in the universe. Of the cave crags, the Gallery is the most friendly, having a good selection of sport routes from 5.11c up to 5.13d, including perhaps the best moderate sport route in the Grampians, Weaveworld 5.11c, Monkey Puzzle 5.13a is another classic line. If you are climbing well, Muline and Millennium Caves are worth a visit. Muline has numerous classics at 5.12b and above, including the incredible Eye of the Tiger 5.13b, which climbs out the side of an enormous hueco.
Away from the steep red rock of the caves, many other areas offer a mix of sport and trad routes. Eureka Wall and its incredible trad classics, Archimedes Principle 5.12b and Pythagoras’s Theorum 5.12b; the Lost World; Red Rocks; the Far Pavilion and the Fortress, which has the outrageous 10 m roof crack, Passport to Insanity (5.12c).
There is much, much more to the Grampians, including these four areas that include hundreds of crags that don’t even get a proper mention: the Wonderland Range, the Mount William Range, the Serra Range and the Black Range.
The Grampians have been suffering from a drought for the last 14 years. This is bad for farmers but great for climbers, who can climb all year round. The worst time of year is from December to February, which can get very hot. Recently, I came across some Canadians from Montreal who were climbing on a 48 °C day and I don’t think they knew what had hit them. You can still climb in summer, you just need to seek out shady cliffs. There are incredible days in winter, but most people prefer to climb autumn and spring. While it rarely rains, it is still possible to climb at many of the steeper sport climbing crags or to boulder in caves when it does.
In the north, Stapylton Campground is where most climbers stay, making it a good place to go if you turn up by yourself. If you are down south in the Victoria Range, Buandik is the best place to camp. Both these campgrounds have toilets, fireplaces and water, although it is always worth taking water with you as they can run out. It is also possible to bush camp in many areas of the Grampians. Be aware that there is usually a total fire ban in the hotter months of the year (which includes stoves). Bans must be taken seriously. If you like more luxury with your climbing, Wartook Rise Cabins is a very central place to stay (03) 53836260, www.wartookrise.com.au, while Mount Zero Log Cabins is very close to Mt Stapylton.
The best guide is Grampians Selected Climbs by Simon Mentz and Glenn Tempest. A lot of the newer areas, particularly those that are bolted, have online topos that can be found at www.climb.org.au. There is no bouldering guide to the Grampians at time of writing, but most areas can be found on the web site just mentioned.
While there is now a lot of sportclimbing in the Grampians, it is still worth bringing a rack, plenty of wires and cams up to size two (Camalot) will get you up most routes. Most people climb on single ropes, although a lot of trad climbers use doubles.