Expert Advice – Chalk or Nature?

• We get an expert geologist’s opinion of the Sandinista white streaks (spoiler alert – #notclimbers)
• PV closes Camp Sandy – because of flood damage?
• and then proceeds to go on a chainsaw choppy frenzy at Andersen’s & Sandinista.

As we remain in a holding pattern whilst awaiting the public release of the new Greater Gariwerd (Grampians) Landscape Management Plan there has been a bit of newsworthy activities going on despite the lockdown.

PV doubles down on chalk claim

A couple of weeks back we unearthed a shocking display of deception from PV in relation to claims that white streaks at Sandinista Wall were “the extent of chalk wash and staining“. We revealed these streaks were nothing to do with chalk or climbers and were naturally occurring rock colouring and bird poo. You can read all about this in our article The Sandinista Scandal.

White streaks on Sandinista Wall that PV claims is “chalk wash and staining”

The document these “white lies” about chalk came from was actually a draft – released to Licensed Tour Operators in advance of a final version. So surely, when our new facts were sent to PV and the mainstream media, you would think they would retract these outlandish claims, apologize and release a final version of the document with no mention of Sandinista? Nope. You can’t help stupid it appears.

Mainstream media coverage of the Sandinista scandal – ignored by PV

Parks Victoria have subsequently sent the Licensed Tour Operators a revised permit application – labeled final in which photos of Sandinista are now labeled “shows the extent of apparent chalk wash and staining”. Nice use of “apparent” to dodge a legal bullet. PV wanted the LTOs to sign this document as being factual.

“Final” document sent to LTOs

An inconvenient truth

Maybe PV knows something we don’t? Maybe we were wrong all along to claim these were a naturally occurring geological formations? So we went to the source, the government department The Geological Survey of Victoria and asked the question to Senior Geologist Ross Cayley – who is the leading expert on Grampians geology. The response we received was thorough – 3500 words to be exact. It is so long and detailed we have published it on a separate page. Take a read of Sandinista Wall Geology – The Expert’s Opinion. If you are an employee from PV maybe take a seat first. Let’s just say it has nothing to do with climber’s chalk.

We will publish a few choice quotes from this long explanation here:

“The fundamental colour of the quartz arenite rock at Mt Stapylton, when fresh, is nearly pure white.

Hardly any of the in-situ Grampians Ranges quartz-arenite sandstone units appear white to the naked eye. This is because the surface colour has typically been naturally modified into a range of other colours; uniform grey on gentle to moderately-steep terrain; reds, browns, yellows and black, as vertical streaky hues on over-vertical terrain and on cave interiors. All these other colours are secondary, and have been superimposed onto the white base quartz-arenite as thin veneers – generally the superimposed colours only extend a few mm to occasionally a few cm deep into the underlying rock.

…the different colours seen in the Grampians relate to different surface processes acting on the rock, in different micro-environments. So, your query about the ‘white streaks’ on the steep over-vertical cliffs, such as the one you mention on the north side of Mt Stapylton, isn’t so much about the explaining the origin of the white bits – the white bits are just places where the base colour of the underlying rock is locally showing through to the surface.

It is apparent in your photos that many of the white ‘streaks’ on the cliff face emanate from, and widen below, pock marks and fractures in the cliff face. Some of the most prominent white ‘streaks’ lead up to pock marks that are also areas where natural ferns and mosses are growing, as evidenced by the small ferns growing in pock marks at the top of Photo DSC-0432″


“Where water seeps regularly and persistently from fractures in the cliff face, at rates where water run-off rates exceed water evaporation rates, desert varnishes are unable to form. Thus the persistent water seeps will show as the base white rock colour in a streak-shaped gap in the ‘desert varnish’. This is the origin of most of the white ‘streaks’ depicted in the photos of the cliff that you have supplied. This pattern and mechanism is not confined just to Mt Stapylton – it also occurs widely on other overhung quartz-arenite cliffs throughout the Grampians/Gariwerd and at Djurite/Arapiles – almost all of these cliffs have points of weakness that leak enough groundwater to locally inhibit ‘desert varnish’ formation.

Thus, the majority of the white streaks on the cliff you have mentioned, and elsewhere at Stapylton and on overhung cliffs across the wider Grampians and at Arapiles, are not ‘stains’– they are just streaks of the native white rock colour showing in-between the reds and yellows of the common ‘desert varnish’ that has formed on adjacent, drier parts of the cliff faces.

Senior Geologist Ross Cayley – Geological Survey of Victoria

Thanks for such a thorough and scientific explanation Geological Survey of Victoria. We have to wonder who PV asked when they thought to blame climbers for something that has been happening for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years?

A quick photo guide to not chalk

We collected this serious of photos from various climbing spots that show examples of white streaks that are formed by naturally occurring geology, lichen and bird poo. We guess it can be easy to mistake it for climbers chalk if your bias is hell bent on annihilating climbers.

PV’s own streaks of shame

Take a look at the following photo.

This is Park Victoria’s own white stain on nature – an abysmal attempt to “paint out” graffiti done by tourists at Golton Gorge, just south of Stapylton. Was the contractor colour blind? How does light green paint match dark orange rock? And was throwing a bucket of paint at the wall really the best solution to an on going problem? Where would this eventually lead – the entire cliff being painted? This is not an isolated incident – the same “technique” can be seen on Lower Taipan Wall.

PV’s laughable attempt at painting over graffiti at Lower Taipan.

Sandinista hack fest

We all love a bit of hypocrisy right? We have received a series of photos and an eye witness report on Park Victoria’s latest activities around Sandinista Wall and Andersen’s bouldering area. Apparently they are chopping down trees and laying the remains across the old climbers tracks and along the bottom of Sandinista wall (once a very pleasant clear sandy spot to picnic in wet weather). These aren’t just dead trees either – several live trees have fallen victim to whatever PV are cooking up.

Why is this interesting? Well we have been assured by PV that no management decisions or changes will happen at these SPA climbing areas until the new management plan has been published (draft will be sent to the government minister this month). We haven’t got this document yet – but PV seem intent on blocking the access to both Andersen’s and Sandinista crags right now – before any formal decision has been announced about their closure. Actions speak louder than words so the saying goes. Is Andersen’s to be closed forever despite it being the scene of the fully approved 2017 & 2018 Grampians Bouldering Festival? A festival that required a comprehensive check of cultural heritage in the area before it went ahead (hint – they found none and the festival got the go ahead). They removed official signage to this bouldering area last year. They speak of public consultation but continue to act unilaterally.

Camp Sandy closed

And in similar circumstances it appears Camp Sandy has been closed* with the arrival of a gate and signage in the last few weeks.

Temporarily closed because of storm and flood damage?! Was there some sort of localized tornado up at Taipan Wall that missed everything else? To be clear – there has not been any recent floods and there is certainly no storm damage to the area of flat gravel that people camp on. We think this is just a generic sign they found in the PV depot – put up to ward off climbers wanting to free camp (legally) at this area. Camp Sandy was targeted by Park Victoria rangers in September last year – with rangers turning up and telling campers it was “decommissioned”. That is an odd phrase to use as it was never “commissioned” in the first place. It is an area used for free bush camping that follows the regulations in regards to its location – it is more than 1km from an established campground (tick), 25m from waterways (tick) and not in a Special Protection Area (tick). There is nothing for PV to fix at this site – no toilets, tables or any other infrastructure. We actually sent an email to PV last year after this ranger incident asking for clarification on Camp Sandy – and in typical fashion received no response. Public accountability is lacking it seems. Actions come before explanation – we now have a gate and a big nasty sign blocking access to the most commonly used climbers campground in the Grampians.

  • Update 5pm 17/6/2020 – According to an email sent to the VCC this afternoon “the site was temporarily closed over the long weekend due to the risk from high visitor numbers/ Covid19. The sign which you referred to has now been removed and the bush camp is accessible for park visitors.“. Why the sign referred to storm damage and “safety works” remains a mystery.

Please share this article and don’ t forget to check out the other 50+ articles on this blog for further background reading. Stay tuned for big news in the coming weeks when the draft management plan is finally released.