Simon Madden's guide to the best beginner and intermediate climbing crags in Australia.
Simon Madden is the publisher of Vertical Life, Australia’s climbing magazine, and the author of the Grampians Bouldering guidebook. In addition to banging on about climbing he has written about skiing, highlining, trekking, SCUBA diving, trail running and getting hurt for about 15 years. Most recently he has been hiding out in the jungles of the Philippines, climbing between monsoonal downpours and – having never been that good at anything – contemplating writing a how-to manual for adventurers suffering a mid-life crisis but refusing to believe that their best is behind them.
Climbing is so hot right now. There are more climbing gyms in Oz that you can shake a stick at and new ones opening all the time. On trend and in the Olympics, it’s no wonder it’s one hell of a workout that keeps the mind and spirit in shape as much as the body.
The easiest way to get into climbing is to hit a gym and make some new mates. Here you can observe experts, pick up the lingo, ask for advice and get a feel for the culture. With all the climbing, falling, shouting, weights, stretching, handstands and therabands there’s a lot going on so my three simple tips for gym noobs are 1. look at your feet – you’re definitely thinking too much about your hands; 2. brush the holds – you will find the route easier if you clean off the built-up chalk and grime; and 3. train your mobility (strength through the full range of motion of your joints) – this is the number one thing I wish I could go back and tell the younger me, not only will it make your stronger it will reduce the chance of injury.
So you’ve spent the summer at the gym, getting strong and learning how to move efficiently, now the temps and humidity are dropping and it’s time to break free of the urban jungle and head to the real jungle. Buy yourself a guidebook, more than just showing where the climbs are, guidebooks provide a wealth of history and act as good primers on climbing ethics. You should also check The Crag (www.thecrag.com) a collaborative online database of just about every climb in the country. Armed with these two sources you can plan your mission.
The people of New South Wales have loads of choice. If you live in Sydney you have urban crags all around you but the Blue Mountains is where it’s really at, offering thousands of climbs, short, tall, easy, hard and everything in between. If you’re an intermediate you should set your sights on the 270m Bunny Bucket Buttress ( 18 )in Pierces Pass, something this long requires a fair amount of climbing smarts, but for the pleasure of being on a stunning big wall this route should be on everyone’s tick list.
As the sweltering summer ends get yourself to Nowra on the South Coast. For a long time it’s had a bum wrap as ugly but it doesn’t deserve it, the climbing is fantastic and sitting by the river at Thompsons Point with the late afternoon sun slanting through the gum trees is beautiful. Oh, and if you climb at Nowra (aka The House of Powa) you’re going to get strong.
Pro tip; buy a stickclip, a specialist device with which you can put quickdraws on bolts that are out of reach thus making it safer and easier for you to try routes that are hard for you.
The decision for Victorians and South Australians is simple, head to Mt Arapiles, home to some of the best easy climbing in the world on routes with lots of protection and a thriving campsite scene, Araps is the best place in the country – if not the world – to learn trad climbing.
Pro tip; if you’re in need of mentors find the dirtbags who are living at Araps and offer to cook them a meal – the next day they will take you under their wing!
For a wilder experience, especially if you’re little bit more experienced, head to the Grampians. Big and beautiful and often remote, you are more likely to have cliffs to yourself and though you’ll have no one to ask questions of, the solitude is a gift to your soul.
Queenslanders in the South East are blessed with Kangaroo Point and, if you want to learn how to climb cracks, there’s no better place than Frog Buttress. Make sure you wear a helmet though as some of the rock is questionable. On the Sunny Coast is Coolum Cave and whilst there isn’t a huge amount of easy stuff, the proliferation of bolts, straightforward access and very welcoming local crew means it’s perfect for learning the art of projecting – ‘working’ a hard route, practicing it until you have it dialled and can send it in one go.
Tasmania, the oft forgotten plug down in wild Bass Strait, is arguably the best climbing state in the nation, when the weather is favourable. The sea stacks are wild and utterly unique. Though not for beginners, your entry point should be the Moai before tackling the more serious Cape Raoul and one day the mighty Totem Pole!
You can read all the books and watch Youtube vids till the cows come home but climbing is learn-by-doing so if you want to be better, climb more. Sounds simple but it’s the one thing that comes with an iron-clad success guarantee. The more you climb the better you get. So get out there.