Blog – Victoria, where are all the climbers?

On Saturday, Taipan Wall – the best crag in Australia – reopened after being closed for just under a year. Team VL decided to head there to share its fine orange sandstone with our northern compatriot and the King of Coolum cave, JJ O’Brien. We were a little worried that we might have to queue for routes, but we decided to risk it anyway because, as I told John and Simon, this is Victoria.

Sure enough, we got to Taipan on a glorious spring day – blue skies, sunshine, cool temps – to find one other party at the wall, a couple of aid climbers plodding up the Seventh Pillar. There were more people bouldering at Trackside than there were at Taipan. We warmed up the traditional way on the Taipan traverse and put up gear on the first pitch of Mr Joshua (surely the world’s best 25?), and gradually a couple of other climbers wandered on up, but there were definitely no crowds or queues. Nor were there the next day when we returned again.


John J O’Brien enjoying glorious September sunshine and temps on Mr Joshua (25), Taipan Wall. Image by Ross Taylor

Personally, I find having world class crags to yourself to be one of the delights of climbing in the Grampians, but it does say something about Victorian climbing. For one, it doesn’t seem like we have that many climbers for such a populous state, which if correct means that from a purely statistical sense there are probably not many hard climbers to visit somewhere like Taipan where most of the best routes are 25+ (and even then not easy for the grade).

Historically, it’s nearly always been the case that Victoria hasn’t produced many hard climbers. Most of the best rockclimbers in the State are the same people who were climbing hard routes ten years ago, or even 20 years ago, people like Malcolm Matheson and Dave Jones. There are a few exceptions, but the majority of Victoria’s best route climbers have been ring-ins, people like Nathan Hoette, Nick Sutter, Stuart Wyithe, and many of the hardest routes have been climbed by interstaters or overseas visitors.

Why this is so is a good question. There’s no doubt that Melbourne being so far from the two best crags, Mt Arapiles and the Grampians, is a big factor. It takes a lot of time, commitment and expense to climb in Victoria. Whereas climbers in Sydney have much easier access to rock with bouldering in Sydney itself and the Blue Mountains and Nowra both within two hour’s drive. Perhaps it is the nature of the climbing itself, certainly we don’t have as many sport routes as the Blue Mountains. While there are better routes in the Grampians and Mt Arapiles, they are often not as easy to access or work. I haven’t done a comparison, but I suspect in Victoria we also have far fewer hard routes for climbers to try.

Beyond that, I wonder if it is lack of decent accessible climbing gyms for Melburnians. Easily the two best gyms are both in the outer Eastern suburbs and are great if you live out that way, but if you live close to the city or in the Northern or Western suburbs the closest roped gyms are rubbish for training, with poorly set routes that may go years without being changed (seriously) or simply an insufficient number of routes hard enough for training. Then there’s Burnley and one small bouldering gym. I wouldn’t be surprised if climbing took off in Melbourne with just the advent of one or two good-sized inner city gyms with first-class training facilities.

Of course, of late there have been a couple of extra factors. In the past three years for periods of up to a year or longer vast parts of the Grampians have been closed to climbers. How many people stopped climbing when the northern Grampians closed? It would be interesting to know. Twenty years ago if a fire or flood occurred in a national park it was closed for maybe a week, these days it will closed for a year. Then there are new camping fees in Victoria that make staying in roofed accommodation look reasonable in comparison to going sans-shower. So much for climbing being a cheap and accessible sport.

It’s a matter of indifference to me personally as to how many people climb at Taipan Wall or how many good climbers there are in Victoria, but I guess I see it as symbolic of a greater problem. I think it’s important for people to get outdoors – so that they can learn to appreciate and value our wild places, but also because it’s good for your health and your soul. Unfortunately, in Victoria, less people than ever seem to be getting out to the crags, and ultimately that’s a bad thing. For everything but the queues.
Ross Taylor

6 thoughts on “Blog – Victoria, where are all the climbers?

  1. Dave Barnes

    Look I have not been climbing of late and took up triathlon as I needed a break.

    Look climbing is not the same as it was ( sure that could well be a generational comment). Gyms, the internet, the pursuit of emmediate gratification has led to new climbing being bolted things in utube bolted chunks.

    Climbers have lost I think that climbing understanding that it was a way of life and not a sport. The sacred has been taken out of it. The sacred was a big part of Victorian climbing, remember the bolt wars and the way you guys held out for so much longer than NSW.

    You also had the spiritual Mecca of climbing, the Piles. That has been climbed out for years and people are seeking there thrills in other ways. I still love the place with a reverence still, can’t help it as I was built that way.

    We are also no longer story tellers and people who can connect themselves to precious climbers. It’s quick clips now and beta face book. The camp fire goodie bag being passed around and meeting up with the crag legend is now a thing of the past. The crag legends, even at the Piles, live in Natimul B&B’s now.

    Choices today Re huge for young people seeking adventure, from walking the Kokoda Track to ultra marathon runnining and ironman. There is a shot load of things other than climbing to make your statement in. Choices, too many in today’s world.

    Saying all that, I love it still, I care for the people I knew who did it or do it and sorry to say, I understand my limits and know when to back off. I wish I didn’t.


    Most striking thing I reckon is the demographic shift: I’ve not climbed with anyone younger than myself in Vic and I’m 25 (nigh on middle age). Compared with Tasmanian or Qld – the retirement capitals – where most / some / a few at least of the people you’d meet cragging where in their twenties.

  3. Laura

    Hi there,

    I’m headed to Melbourne end of August 2015 and want to spend the last weekend in Aug climbing in Grampian. I’m hoping to meet fellow climbers. Any advice for me on how to connect with locals or other travellers climbing Grampains.

  4. cj

    3 years later and I was at Taipan the other day. perfect weather 50% humidity 14 degrees. Blue skies. Saturday. Grug sent Snakes On a Train and Pickles sent Groove Train. Not a Victorian at the crag. There were 400 people sold out at the urban climb comp. in Brisbane a few weeks ago. There are people who climb in this Country. where are they? Kind of sucks to not have anyone to climb with. Maybe VCC, CliffCare, etc. should change their game plans because less people are climbing.

  5. RockClimbing Melbourne

    That looks like one tough climb, I need to get out and try that one. Don’t think I am experienced enough for that yet, although I will get there. I will stick to indoor climbing for now until I get the confidence to take on such a big climb. Also, how does everyone stop their muscles aching after a tough climb, I suffer such joint pain all the time now.


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