Last Person on the Planet

This is a guest post by Andreas Kupke, who in the last 8 years, has climbed in the Grampians more than anybody I know, and would be out there most weekends of the year (that is a lot of climbing).  He had a preference for mid-grade sport climbing (not like my tendency for more obscure Trad), so has a good handle on the climbing numbers, increasing or otherwise, over that time.

I arrived in Australia first weekend of Sep 2011 (which was also my first weekend in the Grampians as well as my first ever climbing experience) and the last time I went to the Grampians was in March 2019 [Ed’s Note: Before leaving for a job in Switzerland… pretty good timing!].  In these seven years I spent a lot of my free time climbing in the Grampians (I don’t think there will be many climbers who spent more times in the Gramps during the last years), so I may be able to give a valuable insight regarding the numbers of climbers.

I think that in the last seven years the amount of climbers at the majority of crags in the Northern Grampians has basically remained unchanged.  I found it was always more likely that you are alone at a crag than with another climbing group. My partner and I spent weekends (even in 2019) with reasonable weather being the only climbers in the entire Staplyton Amphitheatre.  Even at crags like VDL and Cut Lunch (which feel they have become more popular during the years) the chance of another group being there feels less than 50% to me.

There are, however, a few areas were I did notice an increase in numbers. If the weather is decent Golton Rocks usually has 1-2 parties (4-6 people) and it’s unlikely that you walk past Lower Tribute without passing a few ropes.  Six to seven years ago I remember spending some days at these crags without other climbing parties. It has to be said though, that these two areas are probably the busiest sport climbing areas in the Grampians (due to the fact that they accommodate for beginners), and even here it does not feel like you are getting overrun at the cliff.

Overall, the most noticeable change for me is the number of boulderers. I haven’t spent much time bouldering myself, however, the number of pads I see walking up from Hollow Mountain car park seem to have increased a fair bit during the last years.  And nowadays, even if you are the only one ‘climbing’ in the amphitheatre, you are bound to walk past a few pads at trackside boulders.

So yes, to me it feels like there was an increase in the total number of climbers during the last seven years, however, small enough that I can only notice it at a few key locations. (There are crags in the Northern Gramps which probably see less than 10 climbers per year: Dungeon, Clicke, Olive caves, Guardhouse etc., as well as all of the trad / mixed areas).

These are my thoughts regarding the Northern Gramps, the Southern Gramps is a whole different story!

Andreas at home in the Grampians (Images: Jimmy Stephens)

Climbing in the Southern Grampians can make you feel like the last person on this planet.

There are of course a few more popular spots – like the [now banned] Gallery for example, but even there you wouldn’t expect more than 2-4 other people, which has been like this from the moment I started climbing at these areas till the moment they got shut. To me it does not seem that the amount of climbers in the Southern Gramps has changed at all.

Iconic photo climb – Man Who Sold the World , 25. Pic: Julie.

A pretty good example is Clean Cut walls.  Clean Cut is one of the two beginner areas down South (with Weir’s Creek being the other one) and potentially the only area which has been developed/bolted during the last decade (against popular belief there has actually not been that many new areas in the Grampians at all).  After Clean Cut was developed it may have become the most popular spot in the Southern Gramps, and on a busy weekend there would be about 6-10 people.  During the last year I’ve been back to Clean Cut a few times and never again encountered another climbing party at the cliff. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if on the most busy weekend of the year there are only about 50 climbers in the entire Vic-range. Can’t really say much about the amount of boulderers in the Vic range (I am still unsure where Cave-of-Man-Hands is), thus it’s hard to get a grasp on numbers.  However, I do feel that the climbers I meet at the campgrounds in the Vic Range these days are more often boulderers than roped climbers.

Again, we are talking about 5-10 climbers you usually meet on a busy weekend at Buandik campground (the most popular campground in the Vic range), so surely not an explosion of numbers by any stretch.

Another good indicator to judge the amount of climbers in the Vic Range are the tracks to climbing areas. Most tracks are overgrown, some completely gone, as the vegetation re-grows quicker than the track is being formed by people walking on it.  I had to use a GPS tracker to find some of the more obscure climbing spots down south.

I know you didn’t ask about this, but where I noticed the biggest growth in climbing / numbers of climbers is at Mt Arapiles.  I remember going there on weekends where it was a lot less busy than it is nowadays.  These days if the weather is good, you are happy if you can even find a spot to pitch your tent (at least under the Pines).  I haven’t been to Araps since the Grampians bans, but I can only image that this has worsened the situation at Araps even further.

One last thing: Since I am living in Europe now I do get a second perspective on bolting ethics in general and two points immediately came to my mind:

  1. The safety bolts placed in the Grampians are a whole lot safer (better bolts, placed in a safer way, thoughtfully positioned for safer clipping) than most of the safety bolts I have seen here.
  2. Now that I saw the bolting in Europe it is very clear to me that the climbers in the Grampians did a very good job of keeping the impact of bolting to a minimum (safety bolts have mainly been placed where natural protection is not sufficient). Also, a lot of the bolts there have been camouflaged to reduce the visual impact.

I really hope the situation will be resolved and an agreement can be found between all parties involved in the Grampians. In a few years’ time I would like to visit Australia again and one of the main reasons is to go climbing in the Grampians.  Moreover, I wouldn’t be where I am now or who I am now, without climbing. I can honestly say that the people I met through climbing, the experiences I made and the appreciation for the outdoors I gained through climbing have changed my live. I full-heartedly hope that others will have the chance to make the same experiences.

Cheers,

Andreas Kupke (Andreas Aachen)

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