Review & Trip Report – Cape Woolamai Rock Climbing

You’re a Victorian climber and you can’t get to the Grampians? Sick of the heinous undercut starts of the Omega Block at Camels Hump? Scared of the ant colony bumblies of Werribee Gorge trying to kill you with torrents of clumsy-footed rock fall? Do you like your atmos-fear? Can’t decide if you want to surf or climb? Looking for adventure*? Then get your arse to Phillip Island and the mostly-forgotten and long-maligned Cape Woolamai – sea-cliff climbing within an hour-and-a-half hours of Ol’ Melbourne Town with world-class fish ‘n chips thrown in to boot.

I remember the first time I heard about Woolamai, it was described to me in a parable of warning. A tale of choss and fear that, under the deft narrative touch of my mate Franky, rose masterfully to a crescendo of rotten rock pulling free in the middle of a delicate crux, scything through the rope between leader and seconder like a cut-umbilical cord, leaving the two to solo out, shake hands, walk to the car and never return. I’ve wanted to go there ever since.

After many aborted trips I finally got my chance when three others finally agreed to strap their helmets on their heads and their (metaphoric) big-boy-balls into their pants and we gunned it for the home of penguins and dangerous surf.

The biggest criticism of the old guide was that it was shithouse, mostly for the fact that locating climbs was difficult.

I have to admit that we stood in the carpark unsure of which way to turn. Normally this may have been a symptom of my abysmal sense of direction (East is the same as Left, isn’t it?) but the shared confusion amongst our clutch of four probably confirms that what was lacking was a simple, ‘Walk to the beach, turn right, head towards the rocks you see’ opener.

Fitting an adventurous area, you have to work to figure out where things are exactly, the nature of the rock also means that though featured there are no soaring lines to recognise automatically, no there is little hand-holding here. Still we located routes without much fuss.

Stuart Hollaway attempting the Honour the Call prow, Isla de Muerta. Ryan Judd

Stuart Hollaway attempting the Honour the Call prow, Isla de Muerta. Ryan Judd

At the suggestion of the guide we spent our time mostly at Isla de Muerta and whilst the rock was questionable on the coastal side, the rock supporting the best of the routes (on the ocean side) was bomber, in fact the only thing loose were my bowels. And the climbing was great, excellent moves above thundering seas. There are no convenience raps at Woolamai and the alluded to ‘bollards’ on top of Isla were either non-existent or not trustworthy. But that is what you are after, adventure climbing.

capewoolamai-coverThis is quite a pretty book, Richard ‘Sticky’ Dale has proven to be as efficient with his design as with his climbing, resulting in a book that is mostly clean pages interspersed with a collection of well-chosen visual elements to quickly convey key informations. The guide is by no means cluttered, and the number of routes allows for all of them to be given ample room to breath.

The selected imagery – cracked stone and roiling seas – makes the joint look appealing, and that is what you want from your pictures. Some stars seemed injudiciously applied to routes but then again the object of rating systems is to be subjective. The good routes we did would be good anywhere.

Guidebooks are literature, they may be bad pulp or high art, but they are literature nonetheless. And Ms Brunckhorst’s descriptions are suitably poetic and grandiose in a traditional style befitting an area of such old-school gravitas.

I enjoyed the guide. It worked. I enjoyed the climbing. (If you take out the 15 seconds of carelessness in which I tried to kill my seconder, but that’s a story for another time). It’s not going to become my favourite crag but at the areas we climbed the rock was better than I anticipated and on another hot summer’s day I could quite easily be enticed back into the chasm on the backside of Isla de Muerta.

*code for choss, thought-provoking access, no or bad bolts, and rising anxiety.

Tom Patton and Dan Marshman on Shoreline (4), Leviathan. Steve Chan

Tom Patton and Dan Marshman on Shoreline (4), Leviathan. Steve Chan

3 thoughts on “Review & Trip Report – Cape Woolamai Rock Climbing

  1. Ben

    Surely it’s “Walk to the beach, turn left, head towards the rocks you see”? And in this case, East is the same as Left…


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