Red rock, blue sky

After a few days in Melbourne we left the city and hit the open road, heading west to the Grampians National Park. This is a vast area of sprawling bush and red sandstone hills, which contain some of the best climbing cliffs in Australia. It is a wild and beautiful place, and we were lucky to have two weeks here to explore.

  Welcome to the Grampians!
  The long approach
 

Whilst in the Grampians we stayed in the ‘Eco Lodge’ YHA in Hall’s Gap, the main tourist village in the national park, with lots of guesthouses, eateries and craft shops. The hostel was actually pretty good, with big comfortable lounges in front of open fires, and a garden opening out onto the bush. As with all hostels in Australia and New Zealand, it also came equipped with a huge gas barbecue. Having access to a barbie is pretty much a human right here – even public parks are equipped with communal barbecues! Needless to say we made good use of this facility, and had our first taste of kangaroo sausages.

 

Like many parts of the country, the wildlife to be found in the Grampians is astonishing, and mostly unique to Australia. Kangaroos are a common sight, and we thought they were actually very weird creatures up close – like huge, deformed bunny rabbits with claws. They are also a major traffic hazard, with the general advice being to avoid driving near dusk or dawn, as this is when kangaroos are at their most suicidal. I actually hit one on our second day, luckily only going at about 20 mph along a dirt road. It shot out from the side of the road, rebounded off the bumper and then careered away on the other side of the road, looking injured but alive. Fortunately I had a chance to redeem myself a few days later, when we drove past a kangaroo lying on the ground with legs tangled in a wire fence. I managed to extricate it from the fence, and after falling on its face a few times it regained control of its legs and hopped off into the distance. My kangaroo karma was back to zero!

  A visitor at our window
  Emus in the undergrowth
  Kookaburra sitting in the old gum tree…
  Bobtail skink
 

The Grampians is a remote, wild area, and getting around takes time. There’s only a handful of tarmac roads in the park, and access to many of the climbing areas is by dirt roads of varying quality. As a result, the climbing areas often feel remote and isolated – a typical approach would be an hour’s drive on quiet roads, then twenty minutes along deserted dirt tracks, and finally a half hour walk through bush to the crag. Although we enjoyed seeing most of the local wildlife, there were certain creatures we didn’t want to meet, including virtually all of the world’s most venomous snakes. To this end, each day we walked to the cliffs talking loudly and banging rocks together, with the aim of scaring off any snakes which may be basking on the path.

  The ‘highly venomous’ red bellied black snake – luckily this one was viewed from the safety of a car!
  Monday morning rush hour
  Getting wet legs on the walk up to The Gallery
 

In terms of the climbing, the Grampians is absolutely incredible. It is known as the trad climbing centre of Australia (trad or ‘traditional’ climbing is where you place specialist gear into the rock as you climb, as opposed to ‘sport’ climbing where you clip your rope to bolts already drilled into the rock). This was slightly limiting for us as we are travelling light (not that light!) and only have gear for sport climbing; however amongst the trad there are some amazing sport climbs, which were more than enough to keep us occupied. 

 

Charlotte continued her good form, and managed to lead another 6c, as well as climbing more confidently and taking some falls. I climbed reasonably well, onsighting quite a few low 7’s, and coming very close on a 7c at the awesome ‘Gallery’. This is a steep orange cave littered with chalky holds, high on a hill side. We’ve been climbing outside a lot, but are both noticing a lack of strength due to the absence of indoor training. Unfortunately, I just didn’t have the beans for this one!

  ‘Sprung’, 22 / 6c
  ‘Conflict of Interest’, 20 / 6b
  Onsighting the bizarre ‘Struck Twice’, 24 / 7a/+
  Redpoint antics on ‘Chasin’ the Shadow’, 27 / 7c
  ‘Chasin’ the Shadow’ at the incredible outdoor gym of The Gallery
  Bouldering at Venus Baths with Lizzie
  Topping out
 

My highlight was climbing a route on the iconic Taipan Wall, described in the climbing guidebook as ‘the cliff which put Australia on the map’. Taipan is an enormous leaning wall set on the slopes of Mt Stapylton, bullet hard orange sandstone with beautiful grey water streaks. I tried the classic 30 metre ‘The Invisible Fist’, the Taipan entrance exam, being the easiest sport climb on the main face at a paltry 7b+! The route was intimidating, amazing and varied – up a slab, over a roof, slopers up an overhang, around a big flake and finally a dyno (a jump!) in a wild position to the huge hold next to the anchor. After a failed onsight attempt, I managed to fight my way up it second go, and lowered off grinning like a Cheshire Cat.

  Taipan Wall
  Questing up ‘The Invisible Fist’, 26 / 7b+
 

Between climbing days we had a few rest days, and used these to explore the local area. There are a lot of good walks and lookouts to visit, with the Pinnacles being our favourite. This walk takes you through a canyon, and then a narrow gorge to emerge on the summit of the hill, with a great view over Hall’s Gap and the valley. We also took a fascinating tour around ‘J Ward’ in Ararat, a 19th century prison and later an asylum for the criminally insane, which only closed down in 1991.

  Enjoying the view from The Balconies
  Walking down from The Pinnacles
  The main cell block at J Ward
  Tasty homemade waffle cones!
 

We’ve really enjoyed our time in the Grampians, but we are also excited to hit the road tomorrow and see more of Australia!

 

L

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