Review – Moonarie Guidebook

Moonarie is a special place, offering excellent climbing in a dramatic and lonely setting. Gerry Narkowicz spent Easter there leafing through the newly released guide to the Moon and ticking off classics

Moonarie is a world class crag situated 450km north of Adelaide in the Flinders Ranges, Miles From Nowhere* to most people, but a place that every Australian climber should aim to visit at least once in their lifetime. Climbs such as Outside Chance (16), Pine Crack (19), Downwind of Angels (19) and Goblin Mischief (23) are some of the best for their grade in the country. Such a brilliant crag deserves a good guidebook, and Rob Baker and Josef Goding have delivered a first class publication. I have used guidebooks all over the world and found the new Moonarie guide to be on par with the current standard of guidebooks available in Australia, U.S.A, Europe and the U.K.

Moonarie guide coverThe old guidebook published in 2000 by the Climbers Club of South Australia and edited by Tony Barker was well past its Expiry Date*. I’m sure that when the new guide was delivered to Rob and Josef, they would have been well pleased with the final product and the Buckets of Jism* would have over-flowed. In fact, you should have seen Rob Baker, the Ultra Mega-Mega Man* himself, strutting around the campsite, proud as punch and signing guidebooks for the 80 + adoring fans climbing at Moonarie this Easter.

There are many things I like about this guidebook. Most importantly, it gets you psyched to climb at Moonarie. To me, this is one of the main purposes of a guidebook. There are many superb action photos, both modern and historical, as well as stunning landscape images, which capture the atmosphere of the place and inspire you to climb there. As far as the front cover goes, I have seen better photos of climbing at Moonarie, but it nevertheless depicts a climber lost in a sea of beautiful orange rock so typical of the area.

The book runs to 336 pages, documents close to 1000 routes, has an entertaining and informative history and the graphics are neat, classy and pleasing to the eye. There are many aerial photos which are very helpful in getting a perspective of where tracks and buttresses are located, as well as GPS coordinates.

Though much of the text is copied verbatim from the old guide, a huge improvement is the addition of many clear topo photographs, which are number indexed to the text. Each route is colour coded according to grade range of difficulty, making it easy to decide which routes to tackle. Each sector of the cliff is also colour coded for ease of navigating around the guidebook. Abseil anchors are shown on the topo as well as length of abseils.

It is nice to see that the guidebook is comprehensive, giving due respect for history and first ascent details, going against the modern trend of selected best guidebooks. Some 150 new routes have been added to the area since the old guidebook, and they have included a few other crags in the Flinders Ranges which were not in the old guidebook, such as Devils Peak, Point Bonney, Warren Gorge and some new crags on the far left of Moonarie in an area known as the Dark Side. Devils Peak in particular, provides good cragging a bit closer to Adelaide as a stopover to break up the long trip.

Having written six guidebooks myself, I fully appreciate the massive amount of work involved, the attention to detail, how it takes over your life for a couple of years, and copping the criticism from nit-picking pricks. Writing a guidebook review is a bit like handing the authors a shit sandwich – you talk them up to start with – tastes good so far – then comes the shit in the middle, the criticism.

A comprehensive guide to rock climbing in the Southern Flinders Ranges.

A comprehensive guide to rock climbing in the Southern Flinders Ranges.

I interviewed about 20 climbers at Moonarie on their opinion of the guidebook. The overwhelming response was very positive, but almost everyone found some problems with the practical use of the book at the crag. Nit-picking pricks the lot of them!

The Nemesis* for any guidebook writer is typos. No matter how many times the text is proofread, you can never pick them all, and there are a few in this book. One obvious one is on the general map of Australia, the capital of Tasmania is noted as Adelaide, not Hobart. Being from Tassie myself, this would be fantastic as Moonarie would be one of my local crags!

Access to the crag is described from the small town of Hawker, about 50km away, but it would be helpful for interstate visitors to have a basic road map from Adelaide, as well as a bus timetable.

One frustrating thing about using the guidebook, is finding the topo photograph which matches the route description. Sometimes the topo appears up to four pages after the route description. This is made a little more confusing because each buttress has its own numbering system from 1… upwards, and occasionally the topos overlap, so unless you look carefully, it is sometimes hard to know which topo certain route descriptions belong to. I can appreciate the difficulty the authors had in matching topos as close as possible to the text – maybe more topos with less information on each one might have helped, or a table listing the routes in the corner of the page.

Then there is the age-old problem of describing routes in relation to other routes, a legacy of copying the old guidebook which had very few topos. Say you wanted to climb Lettuce Eating Poof*, unless you know where its neighbouring route was, it’s a constant flicking back and forth of the pages to figure out where everything is.

Some people also found that on a few routes, the lines on the topos did not match the route descriptions, and so they got off-route, or couldn’t find the climb at all.

There is some inconsistency in abseil lengths where for instance, the rap from The Good Life is noted as 40m, but the one from Endless Pitch is noted as 50m, when in fact the Good Life rap station is higher up the cliff than the one on Endless Pitch. Some people were unsure of how long certain abseils were and whether double ropes were required; for instance when you rap down a climb which is 35m long, but the abseil from it states 50m.

A comprehensive guide to rock climbing in the Southern Flinders Ranges.

A comprehensive guide to rock climbing in the Southern Flinders Ranges.

Some climbers said they would appreciate more detailed gear lists for each climb, as there are quite a few mixed climbs at Moonarie, and some were dragging up unnecessary gear because they were unsure of what to take.

The grades at Moonarie are notoriously tough, especially some sandbags from the early `80s by Carrigan, Shepherd and Moorhead who were world class climbers who didn’t realise how well they were climbing. The joint start to Live and Let Di and Ape and Away is described as grade 24, but several good climbers here this Easter thought You’ve Goat To Be Kidding*, that it was a V6 boulder problem just getting off the ground. Maybe some upgrading of certain climbs was warranted in the new guide.

A few people thought that the star rating was a bit all over the shop. I did several zero and one star routes at Moonarie which were absolutely delightful, but a mate of mine bailed from a two star route in disgust calling it a ‘Two star wank-fest.’ The star system is heavily favoured in the higher grades with nine 3-star routes up to grade 17; five between 18-21, 13 3-star climbs between 22-24, and 17 above grade 25. Moonlight Buttress is described as having some of the cleanest and best one-pitch climbs in South Australia, but there are no 3-star routes listed on that buttress. I personally am against the use of stars, because everyone gravitates to higher starred routes and perfectly good climbs are neglected.

To these critics, the authors might say ‘Get Out Of Your Wheelchair You Tools and Climb This Because In Reality It’s Just a Hollywood Farce*.’ There has to be a level of self-reliance, adventure and mystery left in climbing where people just simply go climbing, and the tools who expect the guidebook to hand-deliver them perfectly to the base of their climb need to harden up a bit.

In all honesty, these nit-picking criticisms are very small faults in an otherwise Fingernicken* good guidebook. The Big Picture* is that every Australian climber should buy this excellent book, Insert the Carbon Rods Whoop, Whoop Whoop* and hit the road to Moonarie.

For this review, I was hoping for an exclusive interview with Rob Baker to find out What the fuck is Tamagotchi?* (one of his cryptic new route names) but there were so many autograph hounds at The Moon over Easter that I couldn’t get a word in. So I did some research and found that a Tamagotchi is a digital pet, popular in Japan. Maybe that’s the template that Rob and Josef can use when they turn the Moonarie guidebook into an app, it can become their Tamagotchi, a little digital pet.
Gerry Narkowicz

*denotes a route named in the guidebook

For more information or to snaffle yourself a copy (AUD$59.95 RRP) point your Internet to

And if you’ve been to the Moon and have some feedback on the guide for Jo and Rob send your emails to

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