Grampians National Park, located 250km north of Melbourne, Australia, has long been a destination for climbers—Australians and internationals alike. Its vibrant sandstone cliffs offer world class climbing in a breathtaking setting, with a climbing history dating back to the 1960s. However, at present more than 30% of the climbing areas in the Grampians—approximately 3,000 routes—have been closed to climbing by Parks Victoria, which manages the area.
Grampians National Park has a rich ecological and cultural value. It is home to over 800 indigenous plant species and a wide variety of wildlife. Additionally, the vast majority of aboriginal rock art and cultural sites in Southeast Australia are located in the national park. Parks Victoria has barred rock climbing in areas they deemed ecologically or culturally sensitive as a result of the increasing number of climbers in recent years and increasing degradation to these areas. According to Parks Victoria:
“Our Rangers in the Grampians National Park observed instances of impact to cultural and environmental values which prompted these changes. This included instances of damage to rock faces through use of bolts, chalk, and graffiti, damaging plants by pulling them from cracks in the rock, drop mats damaging vegetation and cutting new access tracks through forested areas and leaving rubbish including toilet paper as well as establishing campfire rings.”
The climbing closure will be enforced at eight specific sites:
- The Gallery
- Billywing Buttress
- Billimina Area
- Little Hands Cave
- Cave of Man Hands
- Manja Area
Furthermore, vast swaths of land known as “Special Protection Areas,” making up around 33% of the national park, have also been closed to rock climbing. However, climbers are have received conflicting information from Parks Victoria. Climbing in these Special Protection Areas is officially prohibited, but an email sent from Simon Talbot, Parks Victoria COO, to Victoria CliffCare—a local climbing coalition—stated that: “We are not enforcing no rock climbing activity in broader Special Protected Areas at this stage and will communicate if anything changes.” Grampians climbers currently hang in limbo, while restlessly working to regain their right to climb.
According to savegrampiansclimbing.org, isolated incidents of bolting near rock art and ecological degradation have indeed occurred. Aside from these few unfortunate events, climbers have had a longstanding positive relationship with Parks Victoria, working with the park service to protect environments and cultural sites, and obeying temporary closures. They acknowledge that the Grampians is an invaluable and sensitive ecosystem and cultural landmark, but feel that a sweeping ban of this magnitude is unwarranted. Climbers hope to work in conjunction with Parks Victoria to devise a climbing management plan that will reopen climbing areas in the national park, while still protecting these sensitive sites.