Easter Down Under

By Billy Ridal

The view as I walk up flat rock is different to any I have seen before, an unbroken expanse of flat wasteland all the way to the horizon, broken only occasionally by the smoke of a forest fire. Reaching the top rewards me with the mighty orange face of Taipan wall looming above. Scattered all around are the seemingly innocuous boulders I have travelled half way around the world for. The environment changes as I make my way down into the gallery, exposed barren rock is replaced by sandy tracks, charred trees, and fresh vegetation. I have arrived at Trackside, the first sector at Mt Stapylton, the main area in the Grampians, and where I would begin my trip.

‘The view as you walk up flat rock’

The Grampians was a wholly different beast compared to any other climbing destination I have been to. The fact you are on the opposite side of the world, travelled for 30 hours, and payed for some hefty flights gives it a very different feel to a quick week hit to a European crag. All of this creates a pressure to do as much as you possibly can, because in all likelihood you’re not going to be coming back any time soon. Unfortunately, circumstances meant I could only have 2 weeks in Australia, not nearly enough time to sample everything on offer, and certainly not enough to invest big chunks of time in to projecting. This made it quite challenging to balance my time between sampling a new area, and trying to tick the iconic hard classics I have been dreaming of for years.

My trip began a few days before flying to Australia. The first Boulder World Cup in Meiringen, Switzerland was just before. So, after a successful excursion to Switzerland for the comp I flew back in to Manchester, took a train to Sheffield, drove home to my parents, slept for about 4 hours, and drove down to London Heathrow. From there a 13-hour flight to Singapore, a short layover, then another 8-hour flight to Melbourne, grab the hire car and finally drive the 3 hours over to the Grampians. Pheww! I was a little tired to say the least.

'Planning and a vastly over ambitious ticklist'

The 10-hour time difference and 2 days of travelling made the first few days a bit of a challenge, my body couldn’t keep up with my psyche and simply resulted in short climbing days followed by afternoon naps… Not quite the start I had hoped for, but probably the one I should have expected. It was however enough to give me a glimpse of what the Grampians has to offer. I had anticipated the rock to be similar to the bullet hard orange sandstone of Rocklands, it is in fact far more varied than that. In every area, the rock forms in a different way and offers a unique style. Mt Stapylton and The Hollow Mountain area alone holds the technical font-esque boulders of Andersens, the steep hold pulling of the Hollow Mountain cave, and the slopey, complex climbing at Kindergarten. There is something for everyone, at every grade, whether you are a newbie, or at the pinnacle of the sport.

After a few days, I adjusted enough that naps were no longer needed, and with that I found my stride. I began to tick off a bunch of things on my list, and with every tick came celebratory ice cream! I must say Halls Gap rivalled Font pretty well for pastries, sweat treats and other comforts, all the stuff that tops of a good climbing trip. It’s a great base of operations with an abundance of accommodation, nice cafés to start the day, and yummy ice cream shops to end it. But back to climbing… By this point I had a good idea of what the main objectives were: Ammagamma, Dead can’t dance, and Roobiks cube. The Loskot classic Ammagamma is probably the most iconic boulder in the Grampians, and the areas first 8b. Dead can’t dance is the final section of ‘The wheel of life’, Dai Koyamadas legendary 60+ move roof masterpiece, An 8a in its own right revolving around a finicky heel hook. Roobiks cube is a much newer addition from the man Dave Graham, hidden away in a lesser travelled area ‘Buandik’, it is a fairly long 8a/+ all building up to a huge dead point to finish.

'Damn that’s a pretty boulder! ‘Ammagamma’ (8B)'

‘Ammagamma’ was probably the boulder I wanted to do most, an inspiring line offering hugely dynamic moves right at my limit. The boulder is in the ‘Citadel’ sector which has pride of place a top Mt Stapylton. Unfortunately, this means a 45-minute slog up a mountain to get there, largely in the sun… I went to try it early in the trip when psyche was high and it seemed like I still had a lot of time. The problem has one distinct crux move, do this move and chances are you can do the problem. Despite getting close to doing the move pretty quickly, my muscles and skin gave way before I could unlock it. I left it to try other things for a few days, but a few days turned in to a week and suddenly I had hardly any time left. Other things that felt more possible took priority and I never ended up returning, one for a return trip!

'Endless frustration trying to contort through the crux of ‘Dead can’t Dance’ (8A)'

‘Dead can’t dance’ was not initially a big goal of the trip, I was optimistic that I would be able to do it fairly quickly as I thought it would suit me almost perfectly. This did not turn out to be the case. The boulder is in the Hollow mountain cave, being the home of many of the Grampians harder classics we spent quite a lot of time there. Each time we went I would try dead can’t dance, get really close, then hit a wall and suddenly no longer be able to do either of the hard moves. The stubborn resilience of the boulder turned it in to a bit of a mental battle, I knew I could do it, it just would not happen. After 4 sessions of falling off the same 2 moves I reluctantly surrendered. Another one for a return trip…

'The big final move on ‘Roobiks cube’ (8A/+) so close!'

Despite ‘Roobiks cube’ being near the top of my list right from the outset of the trip, we did not end up going to it until the penultimate day of the trip. This is because it is at the area ‘Buandik’. This is one of the newer areas in the Grampians, developed in recent years by the efforts of Nalle Hukkataival, Dave Graham and Co. As you would expect from that calibre of climber, there is a lot of hard stuff at this area, and not a lot of easier stuff. Furthermore, it is pretty far removed from all the other areas, almost an hour and a half from Halls Gap, and then a 35 minute bushwhack up a hill to get there, I mean Bushwhack quite literally, it’s not a very frequented area! All of this discouraged us from going until near the end, giving me only 1 session to try and send. The key to this boulder is power endurance, it has approximately 10 moves, getting progressively harder, with the last move being the big hitter. I flashed to the last move, and did this move in isolation quite quickly, but the link just wouldn’t happen. The final throw was just slightly too maximal to do with the bit of fatigue that the start added. Another one for a return trip…

‘Rave heart’ (7B) – Hollow Mountain cave

On paper, it feels like this trip was not a very successful one for me, time restrictions, logistics, and perhaps a bit of bad luck meant I did not climb as much as I had hoped. So instead of judging the success of a trip on just the numbers, I’ll judge it on everything that I learnt and experienced instead:

  • The Grampians is an incredible place with a huge amount of variety in its climbing, and the quality is not just in the hard stuff, probably my favourite climb of the trip was a 6c (Epsilon crack).
  • Don’t go to Australia for only 2 weeks, it is impossible to cram enough experience in to such a small-time frame.
  • All kangaroos are suicidal and will take any opportunity to throw themselves in front of your car.
  • There are far less petrol stations in the Grampians than you think, don’t go to Buandik with a quarter of a tank unless running out of petrol sounds like fun to you.
  • The approaches are fairly long, invariably steep and if the guide says a path is vague or overgrown, it isn’t joking! Walking 45 minutes up a mountain in the blazing heat is hard work even if it is to get to the boulder of your dreams.
  • Hostels suck, it’s all about log cabins with log burners.
  • Calories don’t count In Halls Gap, eat as much cake and ice cream as you can.
  • Halls Gap ice cream is excellent, mint choc chip was probably my favourite, although there are still dozens of flavours I didn’t get chance to try. I’ll have to put a tick list together for next time…
  • Don’t base your goals for a trip solely in ticking climbs, it is destined to fail. Aim to enjoy yourself, a simplistic objective but easy to lose sight of!

'The decent from the Hollow Mountain Cave'

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