Climbing Down Under is more than just about rock, it’s about the bush: giant gum trees, explosions of flowering wattle and solitude.
Australia may be the world’s flattest continent, but it is packed with enough vertical topography to keep us climbing for many lifetimes. Most famous are the Grampians and Mt Arapiles, though there is no shortage of other world-class crags.
Four hours west of Melbourne an anomaly appears. Rising from the wheat fields are what appear to be the ruined walls of a crumbling fortress, its ramparts crusted with moss and topped with a Telecom tower. Closer inspection reveals the walls are far from crumbling, but are formed from perfect silica-rich sandstone. And amid the labyrinth of buttresses, pinnacles and gullies roam climbers who spend their days climbing some of Mt Arapiles’ 3000- plus routes. In the 1980s, Arapiles put Australian climbing on the map. A ragtag collection of ratbags and dropouts lived full-time in tents and spent their days competing for new routes. Soon, word spread, and in 1985 legendary German climber Wolfgang Güllich visited, climbing Arapiles’ most famous route, Punks in the Gym (32/5.14a) – the world’s hardest at the time. Arapiles is no longer at the cutting-edge, but it’s still a place of pilgrimage for climbers at all levels, from those coming to repeat Punks in the Gym to absolute beginners.
New South Wales
An hour west of Sydney, the hazy mass of the Blue Mountains looms on the horizon. ‘The Blueys’, as it’s known to locals, is a contender for Australia’s best sport climbing destination. Renowned for its crimpy orange sandstone, the sheer volume of rock is astounding. Most climbers come for the sport routes, but those seeking more adventure should abseil into the green depths of the mighty Grose Valley, exiting the 150m-high walls by climbing one of the hundreds of multipitch routes.
In the desert, 400-suicidal-kangaroo-kilometres north of Adelaide, lie the Flinders Ranges. This ancient range holds one of Australia’s best and least visited crags, Moonarie, an orange sandstone escarpment that sits on the edge of Wilpena Pound, a natural amphitheatre of mountains. The climbing here is something special, the red desert-polished sandstone is superb, while the big cliffs yield long, demanding pitches that are rendered just that little more serious by the remoteness and solitude of your surroundings.