No More Summer Days

Imagine, without warning, the government prohibits all swimmers and surfers at Bells Beach and then shortly after announces that only commercial groups with paying clients are allowed to surf there. Of course – standing on the beach and looking at the people who paid money to surf is OK though.

Now imagine, even closer to home, they banned all self-guided walkers heading up to Hollow Mountain and the summit of Stapylton and instead restricted it to tour groups only with a registered guide and a certain time slot. Now also imagine the government employees rangers to ask for ID and generally harass even these commercial guides who are paying for the privilege to be there.

Welcome to Summer Day Valley in late 2019.

We are not sure if PV understands just how badly this act has backfired on their reputation. We have been told they think this is a successful outcome but instead it has incensed the broader climbing community. Climbing has historically been an activity of freedom, usually practiced in a team of two (belayer and climber). It is not an activity run on schedules, paperwork and money. What we now see is a new form of recreational climbing – where groups who traditionally climbed by themselves are now joining commercial partners to gain access to SDV. For an example see this upcoming Alpenverein trip.

But hang on – hasn’t PV been telling us that SDV is a Special Protection Area and registered Aboriginal site? Climbing is not a compatible activity according to their recent statements.

Clearly not when Summer Day Valley was kept open to commercial guides despite all other climbers being excluded. Apparently a “permit to harm” was granted to allow climbing to continue there. These permits are usually dished out to construction companies to allow them to quite literally bulldoze Aboriginal sites in the name of progress. If you have been following the Djap Wurrung trees saga then you know what these permits seem to allow. How this equates to climbing in SDV we are unsure. Rumor, not confirmed, is there are some small rock quarry sites at the base of the middle section of Wall of Fools. Are these being damaged by climbing? Could they be easily avoided? It would be interesting to understand just how broadly these permits to harm have been used elsewhere in the Grampians Nat Park. Unfortunately this information is a well guarded secret.

What seems reasonably clear is that the mere presence of climbers and climbing is not considered inherently disrespectful to some members of the Aboriginal community if climbing has been allowed to continue at SDV. To be clear – climbers are not interested in getting “permits to harm” so they can climb over Aboriginal sites. They wish to climb where they are not causing harm in the first place. That is a key point lost in this debate. Climbers don’t wish to get “permission ” or “approval” to harm anything – which is why this SDV “permit to harm” seems like a misuse of the regulations. We presume it was a quick bureaucratic solution that didn’t factor in the wider climbing landscape. Now it just reinforces the belief that climbing = harm.

Coming to a cliff near you

Some of the reasons PV have given for the restrictions on recreational climbers at SDV seem misplaced – especially when it comes to safety bolts and brushes. Apparently even clipping a safety bolt or using a brush is bad.

In the recent climbers roundtable meeting PV expressed concerns about bolts being used in SDV. They seem to have failed to grasp the fact that 99.99% of rock climbers have never drilled a safety bolt, and have no intention to do so in the future. The act of clipping an already installed bolt does not cause damage. Repeat – does not cause harm. Summer Day Valley, and the majority of popular Grampians climbing crags, are at maximum saturation for new routes. That means there won’t be any further request for new safety bolts there in the future. Safety bolts are installed once, and last for many many decades. There are still safety bolts being used that were installed prior to the Grampians National Park being created (1984). There has been a misplaced belief amongst the wider community (and certainly PV) that all climbers are out drilling every time they climb. This is simply not true and does not apply to the vast majority of climbers or climbing areas. The handful of “new routers” who have placed safety bolts in the past, and the entire climbing community, strongly agree that restricting the installation of new safety bolts within cooee of Aboriginal sites is a good thing. This is a no brainer. Climbers understand the concern amongst TOs and PV that indiscriminate installation of safety bolts is not on.

Brushing was another issue brought up by PV as a reason for banning recreational climbers in SDV. Most climbers these days carry a toothbrush sized soft brush with them when they climb. This brush is used to remove chalk from handholds. Isn’t that what we should be encouraging? Brushing off tick marks and built up chalk should be part of the routine of rock climbing. Of course the use of chalk in general is contentious to some. But restricting the use of a tool designed to clean up is very odd isn’t it? Brushes can also be used for cleaning “new routes” – which is again where the misplaced concern about brushes in SDV has come from. There are no new routes so no one is using their brushes for that purpose.  The focus on actions, rather than the tools is what needs to be addressed.

Criminal at work

Some may be tiring of our relentless critique of the Summer Day Valley climbing bans. Why are we continuing to bang on about it? Precedent. If this is the PV solution to a perceived problem then anywhere is under threat. Imagine Arapiles’ Organ Pipes being put under the same top heavy bureaucratic and pro-commercial restrictions. Fond memories of a spontaneous sunset ascent of D Minor will be replaced with a 2pm booking with a group of 25 people and a guy checking your ID on the way past. Fun times.

The model we see at SDV is not the model we want to see repeated at other climbing areas. Rather than rushing in a complex to manage and costly system that excludes the vast majority of climbers – it is time to ask climbers to step up and manage their crags.  If an area is under environmental pressure from climbers then lets hope climbers get a chance to tidy it up instead of just being slapped with a ban as punishment. Trackwork, chalk clean ups, seasonal crag closures, individual route closures and camouflaging safety bolts are relatively inexpensive fixes that should be in the mix rather than broad and expensive top heavy approaches to managing climbers.

No thanks

With the closure of the walking trail up Uluru this week we have seen the community hate of “climbers” reaching its zenith. Dare to look at social media comments for a window into our perilous position. We can’t expect much positiveness for the foreseeable future. For example, the chairman of Eastern Marr Corporation, Jason Mifsud had this to say in an article this week on the ABC.

“Jason Mifsud, said his group is considering limiting access to parts of the Grampians. We have our own particular cultural heritage matters at the moment that we are trying to find resolution towards, in the Grampians, where rock art is being damaged by the rock climbing community,” he said.

He said the Eastern Maar, like those traditional cultural sites in the Grampians, would shut down and he is in discussions with the Government to action this.”

ABC News 25/10/2019

It’s disappointing to see the same “rock art is being damaged by the rock climbing community” line being published in the national press despite a lack of evidence . The same line was trotted out by Federal Minister Ken Wyatt on this mornings AM radio program on the ABC.

Despite repeated requests we have not received any photographic evidence of this rock art damage claim. We have personally visited the crags in question and seen no evidence of damage to rock art by climbers either. Bolts were placed metres away from art, but no damage was done to art itself.

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