To all of our loyal wholesale and retail customers it is with a great deal of regret that Open Spaces Publishing has made the decision to halt work on all of our planned rock climbing and bushwalking titles for the Grampians National Park and at nearby Mt Arapiles.
Our business moved to Natimuk in the Wimmera almost 7 years ago to concentrate on climbing and bushwalking publications and I would like to think that our guides have been of some importance to the tourism industry. Over the years we are proud to have printed and sold well over 110,000 of our own Open Spaces titles, generating over 5 million dollars in retail sales and helping to support numerous authors and small businesses. We had a number of climbing guides to the Grampians in various stages of production and had started work on the fourth edition of our very popular Arapiles Selected Climbs guide which was scheduled for release in about 18 months.
There is no doubt that the massive Grampians climbing bans (on an unprecedented global scale and which have come into force over the last 18 months) combined with the recent Bundaleer and Taipan Wall climbing and bushwalking bans, have forced Open Spaces to re-evaluate our position. In these uncertain times and given the likelihood of further climbing and bushwalking bans in both the Grampians and at Mt Arapiles we have decided to cease all of our planned publications to these areas. A business like ours cannot be expected to operate where there is no certainty. We are especially disappointed that Parks Victoria and the Traditional Owners have decided not to engage with the climbing and bushwalking communities and instead continue to foster this uncertainty. Our own recent discussions with senior Parks Victoria staff regarding our forthcoming Grampians bushwalking guidebook have also given us further cause for concern.
Open Spaces would like to offer our full support to all of the various rock climbing, bushwalking and reconciliation groups working towards a mutually beneficial outcome. We understand and are upset that this decision will directly effect the flow of tourism dollars into our Wimmera and Grampians regions but we feel we have no choice. This decision does not affect our existing publications and we will continue to act as a wholesale and retail distributor to titles on our current stock list.
The Grampians have been in the climbing news a lot lately after Parks Victoria initiated the world’s largest rock climbing bans (over 50% of the region’s best climbing) and with no consultation with the climbing community. To say these have been tough times for the climbing community is an understatement. Coincidentally I have just finished reading The Living Rock, the Invention of Climbing in Eastern Australiaby Michael Meadows (a Queensland based journalism professor). His 378 page book explores a colourful and exciting climbing history that has grown into the rich community we share today. If you haven’t read The Living Rock then I implore you to do so. It’s a great read.
The Living Rock, however, is primarily focused on the climbing pioneers of southeast Queensland and the Blue Mountains of NSW. As a Victorian I couldn’t help but wonder about my own state and its early climbing history. All I knew was that in 1947 the Melbourne University Mountaineering Club (MUMC) became the first (and still longest running) climbing club in Victoria. It was followed in 1952 by the Victorian Climbing Club (VCC). Sugarloaf Peak in the Cathedral Ranges were a popular destination in those early years. The formation of these climbing clubs came late when compared to European clubs. The Alpine Club was formed in London in 1857 (originally a gentleman’s club which mainly focused on mountaineering in the European Alps). Pure rock climbing saw its birth around the mid 1860s in places such as the Elbe Sandstone Mountains in Germany, the Dolomites in Italy and the north of England in the Lake District and the Peak District.
In the 1970s I met an older MUMC climber who told me that there had been ‘a fair bit of climbing activity’ in the Grampians in the early 1930s. That discussion stayed in the back of my mind and I have always felt it probable that important pieces of Victoria’s early climbing history had gone missing. Fast forward 40 years and we have the internet. With an ever increasing number of photographs and newspapers becoming digitised (and available as searchable documents) we may eventually be able to fill in those gaps. It turns out that George Rose, the well-known early Australian photographer, took a series of climbing images in the Grampians back around 1910. One photograph in particular caught my eye. The caption read A NERVE-TRYING FEAT. Scaling the Gorilla Head, an immense overhanging cliff, Mackay’s (sic) Peak, Grampians, Vic, Australia. Copyright 1909.
The year 1909 was initially hard to
comprehend. If the stereograph had been taken in 1909 then this would
certainly be one of Australia’s most historically significant
climbing photos. It would also establish the Grampians as one of the
earliest rock climbing destinations in Australia. I contacted Michael
Meadows for his opinion and this was his email reply:
I met up with Robert Thomson this morning and he agrees with me that it is a genuine photograph and bears some similarity to some of the Abraham Brothers images of climbing in the Lake District about that time (see images below). It seems highly likely that George Rose — the well-known Australian photographer who took the image — would have been aware of the Abrahams’ work and quite possibly followed that style — i.e. having a number of climbers strung out on a route. There’s a mixture of pulling up on the rope (as they most often did back then) and a half-hearted belay. Regardless, the first climber soloed the route. A bold and daring lead for the time. I’ve seen several other photographs of people pulling up the rope like this (and even a movie of Bert Samon’s crowd doing it on Mt Lindesay in the mid-1930s). But the images are not quite so spectacular (and as old) as this one. The earliest image I have found was an artist’s impression of a drama on Mt Lindesay in 1890 which shows someone hanging onto a rope on the very steep Mt Lindesay cliff. But it’s a drawing. There is a description of the Clark sisters climbing Crookneck in 1912 where they were actually using rope as a belaying device, tied around their waists. That’s the earliest example of belaying as we do it today that I have come across so far. One of the young women actually fell and was held swinging over a 50 metre drop. But no photographs except that doctored one on the summit we spoke about where the photographer, George Rowe, inserted himself in the image in a darkroom. I am confident in saying that it is the oldest known photograph of serious climbing activity in Australia involving the use of a rope.
Unfortunately there was a fly in the ointment. Apparently Mackeys Peak was not called Mackay’s (sic) Peak in 1909. According to the Parks Victoria signage in Halls Gap it wasn’t until 1920 that it was given its official name of Mackeys Peak. Halls Gap locals had originally named it Cherub Peak after the death of a baby girl (Agnes Folkes) in 1870. The grave still exists today at the start of the walking trail up to the cliff.
So what is going on with this 1909 caption by George Rose? It appears to be 11 years too early. With a bit of research it soon became obvious that the 1920 ‘official’ naming of Mackeys Peak didn’t quite add up. From what I could gather George Rose had finished producing stereograph photographs by 1920 as the fad of viewing stereographs was pretty much over. Around 1910 or so George Rose had moved away from the production of stereographs to what later became his immensely popular Rose Postcards. The following two newspaper cuttings are much more convincing.
So there you have it. The cliff is Mackeys Peak (once called Cherub Peak), a large cliff overlooking Halls Gap in the central Grampians. The climb is called Manolete, three pitches at grade 11 and which had its first recorded ascent by Phillip Stranger in 1967. In future I propose that Manolete be returned back to its original name of Gorilla Head (the reason why is obvious) and the first ascent should be recorded as 1909. It’s a shame we don’t have the name of the first ascentionists. There has to be records somewhere of who these people were and maybe one day we will find them. This image and a number of other stereographs (by George Rose and others) are providing proof that the Grampians have played a significant role in Australia’s rich rock climbing history for at least 110 years. In other words, rock climbing should be viewed along with bushwalking as the first recreational pursuits to be enjoyed in the Grampians. Hopefully Parks Victoria takes this into consideration in the coming months and years ahead.
Thanks to Michael Meadows and Robert Thomson. Thanks also to Steve Toal (editor of the new Central Grampians Comprehensive Guide) who scoured his many topo photographs and helped me to eventually identify the climb.
Many of you are probably aware that Parks Victoria have initiated sweeping rock climbing bans across the Grampians National Park in what are called Special Protection Areas (SPAs). At Open Spaces we have received a number of phone calls and emails asking whether these bans will effect bushwalkers who use safety ropes within SPAs. At least two of our Grampians walks in our Daywalks Around Victoria guidebook are directly affected. These walks are Stapylton Ampitheatre and The Fortress Caves. So we decided to write to Parks Victoria to seek clarification. Here is our letter (dated 27 May 2019):
To whom it may concern, Open Spaces are currently in the process of writing an online update to the four Grampians bushwalks we describe in our popular Daywalks Around Victoria guidebook. This book has sold over 3000 copies and we have a responsibility to the groups, clubs and numerous independent walkers to attempt to clarify the somewhat confusing situation regarding the current Parks Victoria Special Protection Areas (SPAs). Two of our described walks (the Stapylton Amphitheatre, p44 and The Fortress Caves, p50) appear to be affected by the SPAs.
As you are no doubt aware the Stapylton
Amphitheatre walk (the rocky ridge linking Hollow Mountain with Mt
Stapylton) has long been regarded as one of the most iconic walks in
the Grampians, it has been called the most spectacular walk in
Victoria and sees hundreds of walkers a year (both teenagers and
adults). The Echoes Block section of the Stapylton Amphitheatre walk
(at the point where you leave the main walking trail to Hollow
Mountain) appears to be within an SPA. It is our understanding that
there is now a ban on the use of safety ropes within SPAs.
Unfortunately many groups, clubs and independent walkers commonly use
a safety rope to gain the top of the Echoes Block. Although the
scrambling is easy, it is the safest way to bring walkers up. Safety
ropes have been used on the Stapylton Amphitheatre walk for at least
We are writing to you to inform you that we will be advising our readers that if they resort to using a safety rope within an SPA they face possible fines of over $1600. We will also inform our readers that a safety rope is therefore not allowed to be used on the initial Echoes Block section of the walk but is allowed to be used on the final steep northern scramble up to the summit of Mt Stapylton (as this section is not within an SPA).
The final scramble up to the top of the
Fortress is also regularly completed by groups, clubs and independent
walkers. Some of these people rely on the use of a safety rope to
gain what is widely regarded as the best summit in the Grampians.
Question one. Is the Fortress within an
SPA? It is difficult to tell as the official maps are lacking in
detail. If it is within an SPA we will inform our readers that the
use of a safety rope to gain the summit is no longer allowed.
Question two. Has Parks Victoria
considered that a no safety rope policy (within SPAs) will influence
some walkers to forgo the use of a safety rope (due to the over $1600
fine) and which will almost certainly result in future accidents?
We understand that both of these walks
are not officially recognised by Parks Victoria but considering that
they are historically important, have a long history with walkers and
are popular (particularly the Stapylton Amphitheatre walk) it would
be hard for Parks Victoria to pretend that they didn’t exist, and
therefore absolve themselves of any future responsibility.
Looking forward to your response, Glenn Tempest, Open Spaces Publishing
Here is Park Victoria’s response (dated 11 July 2019):
Dear Mr Tempest Safety Ropes in Special Protection Areas
Thank you for your email of the 28th May, 2019 to the Hon Lily D’Ambrosio MP, Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change, regarding Special Protection Areas and the use of safety ropes while bushwalking in Grampians National Park. As this issue falls within Parks Victoria’s responsibilities, your correspondence has been forwarded to me for my consideration and response. I apologise for taking so long to get back to you.
While Parks Victoria prohibits rock climbing within Special Protection Areas (SPA’s) there is no prohibition on the use of safety ropes to assist with the activity of bushwalking either inside or outside of SPA’s. Safety ropes are permitted if necessary for safety while bush walking and National Parks regulations are complied with (i.e. no damage to rock or use of bolts, no trampling or damaging of vegetation). Parks Victoria would be interested in working with you to provide clarity to bushwalkers on what defines the use of safety ropes while bushwalking and how it can easily be distinguished from climbing.
To clarify your question regarding Echoes block and the Fortress: Echoes block is within an SPA. The area is of significant natural and cultural value, and is not on an authorized walking track. Although bush walking is permitted in this SPA, the nature of this activity is “off track” therefore, bush walkers are reminded to adhere to minimal impact guidelines (tread lightly, keep group sizes small, don’t damage vegetation) and comply with National Park regulations. Safety ropes if necessary, should only be used as described above and not be the primary means of access.
The Fortress walking track is an authorized walking track that sits within a remote and natural area, where the activity of bushwalking on and off track is permitted. However, the walking track itself has an SPA layer over its entirety for the protection of important natural values. The summit of the Fortress is not within this SPA as the authorized walking track does not continue to this area. Bush walking in this summit area will need to adhere to minimal impact guidelines and comply with National Park regulations. Care should be taken when walking off track to consider remoteness and difficult terrain.
As you may be aware, a new management plan is being developed for the Grampians landscape, an area that covers the Grampians National Park and adjacent parks and reserves. This document will underpin strategic planning for the Grampians landscape over the next 15 years to ensure the precious environmental and cultural values of this iconic landscape are preserved for future generations to enjoy. This includes providing longer-term direction on matters such as access and usage of the park. The process to develop this plan will include opportunities for you to share your thoughts, attend public information sessions, and get feedback from Parks Victoria and key stakeholders on specific questions that you may have.
I will have local staff from the Grampians National Park contact you to meet you on site and discuss these matters further.
Yours sincerely Sally Lewis, Regional Director Western Region Parks Victoria
So, just to be clear. Safety ropes are permitted if necessary for safety while bush walking and National Parks regulations are complied with (i.e. no damage to rock or use of bolts, no trampling or damaging of vegetation). I’d like to thank Sally Lewis (Regional Director Western Region) and to Simon Talbot (Chief Operating Officer) and Gavan Mathieson (South West District Manager) for contacting me with regards to this important issue.
At the end of the academic year 1968 at RMIT, I looked for a new outdoor activity, so I met Fred Langenhorst and Rein Kamar from the bushwalking club in the college café.
‘Hi Bruno, would you like to do a rock climbing course with us?’
‘Yeah, I would like that.’
The introductory course with the Victorian Climbing Club immediately fired up my passion. Being athletically built, ex-sprinter, skilled in gymnastics and a natural risk taker, I quickly progressed to the more difficult climbs. A determined newcomer usually attracts the attention of the establishment, so I was picked to climb with Chris Dewhirst. He was one of the elite ‘hardmen’. Chris was a tall, wiry Englishman, very intelligent and with a sharp wit. He sometimes beat me at chess, and on the rock face he was the master and I, aged twenty seven, was the apprentice. He laughed a lot and had a-nothing-is-impossible attitude. Thirty years later, he successfully flew two balloons over Mount Everest.
Having done several hard climbs with Chris in the following months, we attempted ‘Blimp’. It is a rock climb in the middle of a cliff named Bundaleer in the Central Grampians in Victoria.
The cliff is overpowering, steep and with massive overhangs. In 1968 Blimp was the great unsolved climbing problem in Victoria, having defeated several strong attempts. It was named and made famous by the legendary Peter Jackson, who was regarded as the father of Australian rock climbing. The climb followed a long, finger-thin crack in a steep corner, between two smooth and overhanging rock faces. The exit at the top was blocked by a two-metre flat ceiling.
Chris tried very hard all weekend, but he always got stuck at the crux point about a third of the way up. If Chris could not do it, I certainly gave it no further thought, so we packed up and went home.
In January of 1969, I had an invitation to have another go at it, this time with John Ewbank from Sydney. He was the leading climber in Australia, and I regarded him with great admiration. Jackson told him about Blimp, and Ewbank asked me to climb with him. I was so excited, that it did not even occur to me to ask Chris for permission to do the climb without him. John Ewbank arrived in Melbourne with his girlfriend Valerie, who taught clarinet at the Sydney Music Conservatorium. And so along with Fred Langenhorst and Rein Kamar (both RMIT climbers), we all packed the gear into my car and headed for the Grampians. That Friday night around the campfire, Valerie and John played on their guitars, and she sang sad songs. Then John turned to me.
‘So you’ve already had a go at Blimp?’
‘Actually, no I haven’t. I spent all weekend standing on the ground, holding the ropes for Chris, who had several goes at it.’
On Saturday morning we arrived at the bottom of the climb, and everyone got busy. Valerie took off her T-shirt and stretched out on a nearby rock to work on her suntan. Fred and Rein climbed up a line of bolts, previously banged into the smooth rock face to the right of Blimp, for the express purpose of filming its first ascent. They alternately used my battered Minolta camera to get a different viewpoint. John stood at the bottom of the climb and quietly studied it, while I busied myself with fixing the ropes to anchor myself to a nearby tree, just like I did for Chris. If the lead climber fell, I would hold the rope and arrest his fall. His health and possibly his life depended and how well I did that. The cliff was in the shade and the air smelled of rotten eucalyptus leaves. I loved it.
John had extremely blue eyes and long curly blond hair. He wore a red jumper and short golf-like climbing pants, with long red greasy wool Norwegian socks, which was the fashion of the day. A climbing helmet, equipment belt with lots of gear hanging of it, and climbing boots with smooth soles completed the outfit. We all dressed in a similar way. John oozed confidence and was eager to get going. I was quietly apprehensive that he may actually get up, and I would have to follow him. Rein and Fred were hanging from bolts high up on the face with my camera, ready for action. The scene was set. Eventually, all was ready and before John made the first move Valerie said, ‘You know a girl could get pregnant just being near you, with so much testosterone and adrenaline in the air.’ We all laughed and it eased the tension somewhat. I thought that John would show us how to do it and that we will have it on film. But aloud I said, ‘I like your red socks’.
John moved up the rock with the grace of a ballet dancer and a cat, in short deliberate moves punctuated by a concentrated study of the next move. He placed protecting gear, such as pitons and crackers into the climbing crack and moved up again. He easily passed the first three of the difficult spots. Then John moved up to the point where Chris and everyone else before him reached and said, ‘Wow! I can see what Jackson was talking about’.
He studied it for a while, then came down and rested. John had several attempts but didn’t commit to the hard bit. We went back to the campsite for the night.
‘So Fred did you get some good pictures?’, said Valerie once we settled in. John cut the answer short. ‘What good would they be if we don’t make it up?’
We slept little that night. I thought, surely John will solve Blimp’s riddle made up of all those
strenuous and risky chess moves. On Sunday, John climbed up and down, always reaching the same point, and by three o’clock in the afternoon he came down and said, ‘It’ll have to wait till another time’.
At this point I felt a huge energy rush, and a determination swelling in me. Without knowing what I would do, I started putting my climbing boots on.
‘I wanna have a go John’, I said. Fred and Rein looked at each other puzzled and stayed up on their bolt line.
‘Yeah, you may as well, since everyone else has’, said John.
So we swapped roles and I started off. I remembered all the moves by heart, that Chris and John had made, and climbed quickly, preserving energy. When I reached the high point John got up to, I instantly understood why it had all ended here for everyone else. Above me was an overhanging thin crack in crumbly rock with enough space to push fingertips just half way in. That was all. There were no other handholds, nor footholds, and no place to put protection of any sort. I went on and on. This required total commitment and sustained strength. The long crack led to an overhang where I could probably place protection. But it was a long way off.
Rein yelled out. ‘Hi Bruno give us a smile for the camera and go for it.’ So I turned around, smiled and committed myself. The adrenalin rush helped. Every two metres I had to stop and hang on one arm to rest the other. There was no support for the feet. I moved slowly, painfully, grunting a lot, and so focused on each next move that I was not even aware of the risk I was taking. If I fell off now I would hit the ground and be crippled for life. I was further above the last protection than it was from the ground level. My one thought was to reach the base of the roof above and secure myself. My weight training and gymnastics paid off here. I felt I could sustain the effort for a while. I heard no other noise except my own heart, heavy breathing and Beethoven’s Fifth symphony, the music thundering in my ears. The stress got unbearable, beyond fear, and beyond pain I could still register. My body numbed, but the fingers held on and that was all that mattered. Nothing mattered as long as I held on. Voices in my head started arguing with each other.
‘Go on fall off, you won’t have to struggle any more.’
‘Ta da, da dah’, thundered Beethoven.
‘Don’t listen to them, just rest up your hand and move up, again and again.’
Eventually, I could stop and get a small purchase on one foot to take most of my weight off my arms. It was enough. I breathed heavily and I knew I would be alright for a while. A few more minutes and I reached the roof and rested. It was uncomfortable there. If I stood up my head had to be bent to the side or I have to hang on my arms again. I bent my head and banged in a solid piton into a crack and secured a rope trough it. I was safe now. My confidence returned. I surveyed the overhang. That was the next problem. The exit was to the left along a mossy ledge extending for almost two metres. There were holds for the fingers and absolutely nothing for the feet. The ledge started off several centimeters wide, sloping down and gradually narrowed to nothing at the end of the overhang. Having rested I regained my humour and yelled down, ‘This is really tricky, so hang on tight on the ropes’. I cleaned the ledge with my fingers, throwing lots of rubbish in John’s face below, and on the third attempt I reached the exit point. Time was running out, my energy nearly spent, and if I didn’t commit to the overhang now I would simply fall off from exhaustion. So with a loud ‘Urgh!’, I put my left hand on the only hold available and pulled up. The rest happened very fast. The feeling of exposure gave me such a boost, that I swung over the overhang and I was up.
I could not believe it. I had just done the first ascent of Blimp. Following lots of jubilant screaming from below, I secured myself to a tree at the top and yelled down, ‘Climb when ready.’ John climbed up, grunting and muttering mild obscenities in admiration, but with the confidence of the top-rope from his waist to my hands. Eventually, he came up offered his hand and said, ‘Welcome to the world class mate’. Strangely I felt humbled by the experience. I came very close to my limit on this climb.
Back in Melbourne John Ewbank got on the phone and told Chris Baxter and Peter Jackson about the climb. My life had changed. I acquired a ‘persona’ which did not agree with the usual image I had of myself as a person who was withdrawn somewhat.
It’s been a tough ten years in print publishing as the internet revolution continues to change the way we create and distribute information. Traditional printers across Australia have been putting off large numbers of staff or closing their doors for good. Wholesale distributors and book shops have been similarly affected. The introduction of smart-phones and tablets using e-books cut further and further into the traditional book market.
It’s no secret that we at Open Spaces have not been immune to the tsunami which has raged around us. At times it felt that we were shoeing horses in a blacksmith’s shop, all the while watching automobiles speeding past on the road outside. We changed tack accordingly and provided our newest walking titles with comprehensive GPS coordinates, which were able to be downloaded directly from our website. As far as we know this was a world first. Open Spaces also joined up with iCrag to create Australia’s first interactive climbing apps for both Apple and Android. We were very proud of how our Arapiles Selected Climbs and Rockclimbs Around Melbourne turned out as apps. We even changed the concept of our books, creating smaller print runs of slimmer, less expensive editions (such as our Western Gorges and Victoria’s Goldfields), which gave us the ability to update quickly and regularly. These innovations helped us to stay in business but despite this we at Open Spaces are under no illusions as to what the future holds for many ‘less adaptable’ publishers in the traditional print industry. We don’t believe that the end of traditional books will occur any time soon but we feel that there will be a fundamental shift in how books will be printed. High-quality, fast, digitally printed books that will have very short print runs (usually under 500 copies) will start to make more business sense. Our latest book, Law Unto Himself is a good example of this print on demand style of publishing. In the end though we have to face up to certain truths. More and more people will use the internet as a prime source for much of their information and they will have less need to purchase traditional forms of print media.
Which is why we have made some rather large changes here at Open Spaces. One of our biggest decisions was to drop the publishing and distribution of all our cycling titles. Of all of our books it was our cycling titles which suffered the most. With few book shops able to sell our product (to the general public) and with almost no support from cycling shops we had no choice but to drop them. We have sold the remaining stock of our excellent Bike Rides Around Melbourne to a leading distributor (Woodslane) and we will no longer be stocking it ourselves. We have also dropped many of the smaller less popular titles in our range, simply because we couldn’t justify holding so much stock.
Perhaps the biggest change for Open Spaces was that we have sold our premises in Melbourne and moved ourselves to Natimuk, a small town in the Wimmera region of Western Victoria. Natimuk is within spitting distance of the famous Mt Arapiles and the rugged Grampians mountains are nearby. This change in lifestyle will allow us to do more of the things we love. Tracey Skinner, our office administrator, has followed suit and moved up to near Natimuk with us. In fact, she and my partner, Karen, are now owners of the popular Natimuk Cafe, which is open on weekends for locals and visiting climbers and walkers.
Finally, Open Spaces would like to apologise to any of our customers that may have been inconvenienced by the inevitable chaos involving our move. Things should now be running smoothly again and we look forward to a bright future where we will continue selling and distributing walking and climbing books for many years to come.
This new Grampians sport-climbing cliff is located just near the Mount of Olives, a couple of minutes walk off the trail linking the Stapylton Campground with the Mt Stapylton Amphitheatre (total walk-in time is about 20min). The cliff is very short (only 12m or so) but the climbing is steep on generally good pocketed rock. There should be enough to entertain most climbers here for at least an afternoon’s moderate cranking. At present there are just five routes (not counting variations) as well as a couple of projects.
There are probably another six or seven possible new routes waiting to be done. The Rust Bucket is most appealing as a summer destination as it faces west, which means that it is in the shade until about 4pm. It also conveniently catches any cool breezes and has an appealing high aspect overlooking the plains. In winter the Rust Bucket would be a very cold place indeed. A few of the routes require stick clips on the first bolts.
The following PDF topo provides approach and route details. It can be opened up in Google Docs Viewer.
While much of my working week takes place at Open Spaces (I work here 3 days a week) I also work part-time for the Victorian Climbing Club and CliffCare as the Access & Environment Officer. Some of you may be familiar with what my role entails and what CliffCare is about but there is a pretty fair chance that many of you may have no idea what I am talking about. I did briefly touch on this in an earlier blog
CliffCare is a Trust – The Victorian CliffCare Trust. This is administered by the VCC and in simple terms is the environmental arm of the club. In short CliffCare’s aims:
Education – promoting ‘low impact’ climbing
Advocacy – negotiating with land managers to maintain access and re-open popular cliffs.
Protection – organizing work parties and raising money to preserve the cliff environment.
CliffCare aims to take a proactive position when it comes to these aims rather than a reactive one which tended to occur in the past. With a strong partnership developing with various Parks Victoria offices, our hope is to be able to look after the areas in which we climb in a way which is more conducive with climbers as well as taking into account other park users and the environmental interests of the parks themselves. Constant budget cuts to Parks Victoria which noticeably affect their resources, including staff, mean that more and more often, these kind of partnerships with usergroups will be required if we want areas to stay open and managed well. Many of the areas in which we climb are often off track as in PV managed tracks. What this means is that as they are not official tracks etc, PV are not required to maintain them. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be maintained nor that PV will just turn a blind eye. Considering the fact that for the most part, climbers are the ones that predominantly use these tracks and areas, well – it should be that climbers are the ones to maintain them. All of this though, requires volunteers and that dreaded word…..money. While the VCC might administer the funds and some percentage of membership fees do cover some aspects, the costs associated with having an Access & Environment Officer, materials, tools etc are all dependant on the Annual CliffCare Raffle and enough donations coming in. Some projects have been lucky enough to be funded by a grant but these are getting fewer and far between and it does seem that with the current Victorian government, that anything that has the word ‘environment’ in it, is first for the chop. So now more than ever, donations are a vital component of the continuing success of CliffCare and for the climbing community, the safeguarding of the cliffs access and care.
This year has been a bumper year for works going on at a variety of areas and cliffs.I’ve made a list of workdays so far, some pictures to see some of the work, links to more pictures and if you’re feeling so inclined, the link to the donation site. And if you would like to help out on one of the many working bees we have lined up, please drop me a line and I’ll send you the details email@example.com
I’d been planning to walk the Mt Stapylton Loop for the last year or so and it was only last week when I finally got the chance to do so. For anyone unfamiliar with the Grampians National Park, this 12.2km circuit walk traverses a series of exposed sandstone peaks and shallow valleys in the parks drier northern extremity. The Wimmera surrounds this rugged massif and it doesn’t take much imagination to visualise how, in the not too distant past, the sea once lapped right up to the cliffs and boulders.
I left the Stapylton Campground at about 8am. It was a little earlier than I’d planned but I hadn’t accounted for nature’s alarm clock; a few dozen screeching cockatoos flying over my tent at 6am. The trail passes through low scrub for about 15min before crossing Pohlner Road. There are great views of the Mount of Olives, a tower of ochre-coloured rock, which reminded me of a rather more sad and weary version of the Pharos at nearby Mt Arapiles. By the time I reached the top of the range the sun had risen high in the sky and I was sweating from the climb. Here the trail reached an intersection and I turned north, a gradual ascent leading up through low bush.
After an hour or so I reached a major trail junction. Here I met a group of walkers who had come up from Mt Zero Picnic Area and were sitting on the rocks trying to figure out which way to go. All of the trail signs were laying in the trees, having been pulled from the ground. Why anyone would want to do this is beyond me. I pointed them in the right direction and they happily set off towards Stapylton Campground. I on the other hand continued on up towards the top of Mt Stapylton. The trail weaved its way up the northern side of the rocks before sidling up to a rocky ridge. Here a metal sign indicated that walkers should only proceed in good weather. No problem today.
The final scramble to the top is easy but exposed. In wet or windy conditions I would seriously think twice before attempting the ascent. A couple of years ago my partner and I arrived on the summit as black storm clouds gathered and a hot wind gusted from the north. Our hair stood on end and we could feel the crackle of electricity in the air. Needless to say we retreated immediately, managing to reach the safety of the trees just as the heaven’s opened up and the rain came pouring down. This time I arrived on top in perfect conditions. Fluffy clouds billowed above me and a lone kestrel danced on the breeze.
Mt Stapylton is only 518m above-sea-level but its isolated rocky mass and commanding position makes it one of my favourite viewpoints in the Grampians. Off the the northwest I could see Mt Arapiles and its distinctive tiny neighbour, Mitre Peak, rising above a sea of wheat stubble. As I turned counter-clockwise I could make out the bluffs of the Black Range and, almost abutting it, the entire backbone of the Grampians National Park as it stretched, broken and twisted, south towards the coast.
After an hour dozing in the sun I reluctantly left the summit and started down. Back at the junction I continued along the trail towards Mt Zero Picnic Area. The walk descends long rocky ramps past Bird Rock and underneath Taipan Wall, a soaring bastion of overhanging red rock, before meandering through the Mt Stapylton Amphitheatre. At the Mt Zero Picnic Area turnoff I pushed on a little further to the top of Flat Rock. This short diversion allowed me to look back into the amphitheatre and view the half-moon escarpment as it started to reflect the late afternoon sun. The final 4.4km of sandy trail led me down from the amphitheatre and back along the range underneath the Mount of Olives to where I rejoined my footsteps from earlier in the day at Pohlner Road. By the time I arrived back at Stapylton Campground the sun was low in the western sky and I was low on energy. Definitely time to warm up in front of the camp-fire and refuel.
Just in time for the long weekend. A number of the tracks previously closed have now reopened and these are listed below. As well as these updates, there are some future planned burns in the Victoria Range. I don’t have actual dates at this stage but at least you can get an idea of the time frame they are looking at and hopefully plan around them. I have been told that during the school holidays, it will be business as usual but the closures will occur before and after this. Sections of the Victoria Range will be closed for a couple of weeks at a time.
Hollow Mountain Walking Track – reopen Tuesday 5 March
The Grampians Flood Recovery crew will be reopening the Hollow Mountain walking track tomorrow after four weeks of construction works. Crews have installed new timber steps and approximately 400m of the walking track has been ‘lifted’ to reinstate the track surface to above ground level.
Bullaces Glen Walking track – reopen Friday 9 March
The Bullaces Glen walking track will reopen this Friday in time for the Long Weekend. This popular track has been closed since the January 2011 flood and storm event. There has been a lot of work done on this track including 200metres of track realignment. The crews have harvested tonnes of rock on site for the creation of over 100 stone steps and have also built a new creek crossing in the Bullaces Glen area. Other works on the track include drain clearing, risk mitigation and vegetation removal along with the replacement of directional signage. The new loop track offers a fantastic option for visitors wanting a 1 to 1 1/2 hour walk with moderate difficulty or visitors can take the longer option to Chatauqua Peak.
Venus Baths Walk Update
There will be access to a small part of the Venus Baths walking track for the Bullaces Glen Walk, however the walk to Venus Baths will remain closed. Concept planning for realignments around land slips and bridge replacement is underway.
Coppermine Road – Reopened
Road crews have repaired the large washout on the road between Coppermine bushcamp and Mt Zero Road.
Grampians National Park – Planned Burn Program 2012
The Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) and Parks Victoria will be commencing its autumn planned burning program in the Grampians National Park during April and May. Planned burns have been scheduled a little later this year because of the dryer weather conditions we have experienced locally.
In line with the Wimmera Fire Operations Plan released last September; DSE and Parks Victoria intend to conduct seven separate burns in the Grampians area. Planned burning is part of an integrated plan to reduce the bushfire risk to people, property and communities. Please see the attached map of the Grampians that provides all planned burns for this autumn.
Favourable weather conditions largely influence when particular planned burns go ahead. The final decision around planned burning will be made on the day of the burn and this will be based on the results from the monitoring of the ground and weather conditions. Where possible, DSE and Parks Victoria will provide notification prior to each burn, but it is your responsibility to check the DSE website regularly for planned burns information.
During the burning program, there will be some short term closures of roads, visitor sites and walking tracks for public safety. The burn areas will stay closed until they are classified as safe. This may be up to a week after a burn. If you are planning a camping or walking trip, it is important that you plan an alternative route in case you need to change your trip at short notice.
Some of the areas that will be impacted by closures this planned burning season include:
All walking tracks and access within the Victoria Range (including Manja Shelter, the Fortress, Mt Thackeray, Goat Track and Victoria Range Track)
Access to the Red Rock area including all climbing sites
The walking track from Plantation to Mt Difficult, Boronia Walking Track
Terraces Track to Tandara Road and the Griffin Picnic ground
For more information
To find out where and when planned burns are happening visit www.dse.vic.gov.au, call the Victorian Bushfire Information Line on 1800 240 667 or listen to your local radio station
Information is also available at www.dse.vic.gov.au/fires and for information about fire restrictions, fire bans and fires on private land at www.cfa.vic.gov.au
For further information on the Wimmera Planned Burns program contact the Horsham DSE Fire Operations Room on 5362 0720 or visit www.dse.vic.gov.au.
Just finished chatting with David Roberts, Ranger in Charge of the Grampians National Park. Regular readers may remember the piece we did here on the Grampians Peaks Trail in July 2010. The proposed walking trail was to link Mt Zero in the north to the town of Dunkeld in the south, covering a distance of approximately 150km. This was easily the most exciting new walking trail project to have been planned in Victoria since the completion of the Great Ocean Walk in 2005. Unfortunately nature intervened with the January 2011 floods and many walkers feared that the initial $1.6 million in funding would be withdrawn or redirected elsewhere. Thankfully this was not to be the case. David said that the final alignment of the trail was happening right now and that he envisaged construction of the initial three-day walking loop (from Halls Gap, through the Wonderland Range, across Mt Rosea to Borough Huts Campground and back at Halls Gap) would begin within 3 months. Two hiker camps will be constructed along the way.
This really is great news for what will hopefully become one of Australia’s premier long distance walking trails. The Victorian Government have also approved another $1.4 million for the next stage of the trail through 2012 to 2014.