Romanticising the Stone Part I – Halls Gap
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They say that in Australia fire renews, a creative destruction that burns away the old and creates space for the new. In terms of Grampians bouldering development this notion holds true. The big fires in the north of the Park in 2013 led to closures that renewed interest in other, less-frequently travelled climbing areas. Most notedly, give-me-convenience-or-give-me-death boulderers headed for the easy-as accessible crags around Halls Gap, whilst the intrepid-explorer, soul-boulderers (soulderers?) made for the wild and beautiful blocs of the Victoria Range.
Under this renewed, or at least re-targeted, development momentum, much new stuff was done, boulders brushed and sent and celebrated, and even in the North much has changed since the first edition of Grampians Bouldering was released back in 2009.
Obviously a guide update was warranted. There has a yawning black hole in Grampians bouldering. Completely consistent with Stephen Hawking’s latest theories on super-massive bodies, some information on new areas has leaked back out across the event horizon into the universe but it has been incomplete and unevenly distributed. The black hole metaphor also holds because the quality of the rock and the problems it yields will suck you in and consume you.
So, in celebration of the release of the revised, updated, improved and spiffed-up Grampians Bouldering 2016 Edition we are publishing a short series of profiles of some of the new places and old faces of Grampians bouldering.
In reducing the glory of the Grampians to a politics soundbite, and to paraphrase Bill (the worst) Clinton, ‘It’s the sandstone, stupid’.
Grey, gritty blocs, often bulging with rounded buboes like bodies bloated with the Black Death*, set upon a thickly-forested and serene escarpment, the Bleachers is top notch.
The access is straightforward enough for even the most directionless, city-slickened hipster boulderer. And at only a 15-minute, flatish amble from the Sundial Turntable car park there is little danger you will end up with the boulderer’s worst nightmare – useless overdeveloped leg muscles – from multiple trips in to work your project.
There are very good problems spread across the full range of grades, from the easy-peasy warm-ups of the very pleasant Cirque of the Climables to the kung-fu, anger-machine Red Mist (V12), the uber-classic tensiony the Walker (V9) and ‘the Grampians best sloper’ of Rick Steel V8. There are a bunch of good tall lines though some of the more stout highballs blur the line between between route and problem and even the moderates of this genre should be approached with reverence and with a mindset of self-preservation.
Not quite climbed out, new lines were still getting established in the week the new edition went to the printers, but it would be fair to say that the plums have been picked.
* there is absolutely no evidence of plague at the Bleachers
Valley of the Giants
Any place that bills itself as the realm of giants should make you feel diminutive, for we are not giants, we humans are but small, weak, fearful mammals of whom the only things that are big are our dreams and our environmental impact. The boulders in the Valley of the Giants are big enough to do this without being so large as to overwhelm you under the oppression of feelings of utter irrelevance. Comprising large, grey stone boulders that have come to rest after toppling down from the Sundial escarpment above, the field litters a slope that sweeps into a quiet valley below the cliffs of Mt Rosea. It is a fine place to spend a day scouring the skin from your tips.
Whilst you don’t need to employ siege-tactics to get there, VOG is the Halls Gap area whose access is the most frought. This is not because of a streno walk in through disorientating scrub, rather after significant flood damage, the access road – Silverband Falls Rd – is now one-way and a dearth of parking means the ill fortune of what limited parking there is being full could force you into a massive circuitous, time-eating loop. Be warned.
The established problems offer mostly vertical to slightly-overhanging climbing, and in keeping with the area’s name, the best are often highballs, so come armed with enough spotters and mats to bolster your confidence and ensure your safety. The Taken Boulder is a particular highlight, with a series of hard and high problems that are superb, from the one of the Grampians’ best V10s, the Departed, to the head trips of the BFG (V7) and the Taken (V11), which is long, pumpy and committing.
Of the three Halls Gap areas included in the new edition, VOG has the the most as-yet untapped potential. There is heaps yet to do in the field, boulders to brush, problems to establish, glory to be snatched – particularly with easier and more moderate lines. There are also two soaring lines screaming out for an ascent – the Weilly Bin Project and the Seam Project on the Giant Slab Boulder will carry their FA’s name with pride.
Blocs for those who like their walk-ins brief and flat and their crags as close to coffee as possible. Smack in the dully-throbbing heart of the Grampians, Halls Gap, Venus Baths is as close to urban bouldering as Melbourne gets, and it’s only 250km away.
The stone can be pretty, much of it daubed with deep reds and purples, and the setting along a sinewy creek in the shadow of Mackey’s Peak is idyllic. That said, proximity can be a curse and because the Venus Baths walk is one of the Grampians most popular, during holidays and on long weekends it can be as busy as Bourke Street. Add to that being a bit of a sun trap it bakes like an Italian grandmother in the the hotter months. Fortunately, respite is ever at hand so if you find yourself melting off your project you can always cool your jets with ice-cream eating and pool dipping.
The boulder field is compact but has yielded a substantial amount of high-quality, high-vis bouldering. In particular the fine crimpy face of And Then There Was Red (V4) and the committing Copperhead (V7) standout, as does Immersion (V9) and Stoplight Arête (V10) the latter being so perfect for entertaining rubbernecking tourists that it has its own viewing seat.