Illawarra Escarpment – Draft Amendment to Allow Climbing?

In what appears to be a fantastic win for the climbing community – the extensive 13km cliff-line that runs from Bulli Pass north to Stanwell Park is set to be re-opened to rock climbing according to a draft amendment to the Illawarra Escarpment State Conservation Area Plan of Management. This is great news, as this area has some fantastic climbing at crags such at Stonehaven, Coalcliff, Scarborough Cliffs, Whale Watchers Wall, Scarface and Fear Wall. Lush forest, amazing orange rock and exciting multi-pitch routes – both sport and trad – are potentially on offer. There are hundreds of already established routes in this area that came under a cloud a few years ago when a new Plan of Management was applied that effectively banned all rock climbing outside of Mt Kiera. This is set to change.

ACANSW representatives met with the land managers a few years back and lobbied for this area to be open as a recreation area for the local climbing community. It appears these meetings may have hopefully given the green light for such a great area to be recognized for it’s climbing.

The relevant rock climbing sections from the draft amendment are:

Promoting recreational opportunities

The escarpment between Bulli Pass and Stanwell Park has a longstanding history of rock climbing. Rock climbing is currently only permitted on the south- and west-facing cliff lines of Mount Keira under the Illawarra Escarpment State Conservation Area Plan of Management, subject to safety and environmental acceptability. An amendment to the plan of management is proposed to provide additional opportunities for rock climbers by allowing rock climbing in areas north of Bulli Pass.

Plan reference: pages 26-27, under Other activities

Rock climbing and abseiling will be allowed on the west- and south-facing cliffs of Mount Keira and north of Bulli Pass. Basic amenities are available near Mount Keira at the Mount Keira Summit Park, and access is provided via the Dave Walsh Track.

New bolts or anchors may not be installed, and park infrastructure such as safety railings may not be used as anchor points as they have not been designed for this purpose.

Locations where rock climbing and abseiling are allowed may be reviewed to address safety issues, risks to visitors or impacts on cultural values or environmental values.

What does this mean for climbers?

In general, this appears to open up 13km worth of cliff to rock-climbing for the Wollongong and Sydney climbing community. These cliffs are so good they will also attract interest from climbers from further afield. This should be applauded.

A ban on new bolts or anchors hampers vital rebolting work – upgrading old and dangerous safety bolts and chains that may have been in place for 30 years or more. ACANSW suggests that there should not be a blanket ban on new bolts – as this will cause significant safety issues in the long term.

The rest of the amendment seems to be focused on allowing huts and other “roofed” structures and commercial operators into the area as part of the Great Southern Walk – a new proposed multi-day walking track in the area. The document allows groups of 40 people to be in a single group (!) and opens up the public land to commercial interests – it’s best summed up in their own words “NPWS may engage commercial operators to provide support services to walkers on the Great Southern Walk. This could include guiding, food and supply drops, facilities maintenance of walker accommodation and hiker pick-up and drop off services.”. This is the same game National Parks have been playing all round Australia – including the infamous Grampians Peaks Trail. ACANSW does not believe this to be in the best interests of future climbing access as these types of glamping “trails” usually come with trail fees and caveats that make it illegal to walk off them – thus shutting down informal access to climbing areas. There will also be land clearing associated with a proposed new Maddens Plains campground, huts and vehicle service roads. This campground is positioned directly above an established climbing area.

Help us to secure our climbing future!

We need YOU HELP to send a submission to make sure this draft amendment regarding climbing is confirmed. It doesn’t need to be War and Peace – just write a few sentences letting them know you think allowing rock climbing in this area is an excellent idea and one you broadly agree with. Mention that safety bolts should not be prohibited due to safety risks regarding lack of maintenance to already existing anchors. If you don’t agree with commercial huts then mention this as well.

Submissions close on the 28 October 2022.

You can download the plan at this link.

You can provide your written submission in any of the following ways:

Diamond Bay & Rosa Gully – community feedback required!

Waverley Council is inviting the community to provide feedback on its development application (DA) to upgrade the Clifftop Walkway at Eastern Reserve, Dover Heights and Diamond Bay Reserve. This includes the access to the popular Eastern Suburb’s climbing areas of Rosa Gully, Diamond Bay and Bow Wall. Submissions close this coming Tuesday the 19th October – we need YOUR help to secure climbers access rights into the future.

Among the works proposed in the DA is the creation of four new viewing platforms and the relocation of the existing Diamond Bay viewing platform to “capture coastline views in a safer location”. They also propose replacement of boardwalks and fencing along much of the coastline in this area. Current access to Diamond Bay involves climbing the fence pictured below.

Why does this matter to climbers? Access to climbing areas in this area involves negotiating fences, informal tracks and ignoring signage that appears to state access is not permitted on the cliff side of the fence. There has been continued access issues in recent years, often involving the police or Waverly Council rangers telling climbers they should not be on the far side of the fence. This is despite Council agreeing informally in recent meetings with ACANSW that climbing is a valid recreational activity in this area. A 2002 document detailing some of the past issues with Council and rock-climbing can be found here.

Current signage along clifftop appears to not factor in legal access to cliffs for recreational rock climbers.

What are we asking for? ACANSW wants Waverly Council to factor in the access of climbers to these cliffs into any proposed changes to fencing and signage.

We ask climbers to make a submission about the proposed Diamond Bay development application by emailing dasubmissions@waverley.nsw.gov.au and quoting DA-378/2021.

Key points to make in YOUR submission could be:

I’ve been climbing on the Waverely sea cliffs since…..

This area is an important and popular climbing destination and popular alternative to traveling to the Blue Mountains.

Modern climbing techniques and equipment make climbing a safe activity.

I’m worried about/ have previously been, stopped by rangers or police despite understanding that it was a legal activity.

I’d rather not jump fences and disregard signs to pursue the sport. Could Waverly Council consider climber access points in its construction of the new boardwalk and fence. These might be gates, or signs warning walkers that suitably equipped climbers are only permitted to access the cliff edge.

Waverly Council should discuss specific climber access requirements with the Australian Climbing Association NSW.

Submissions close Tuesday 19 October, 2021.

Mt Piddington – help stop the chop!

Blue Mountains City Council is planning to remove over 60 mature trees along the approach trail to Mt Piddington (the Hourn Point Trail) in the next couple of weeks. Anyone who has climbed there recently will have noticed spray painted Xs and 0s on tree trunks all along the 800m track. An X means total tree removal, and an 0 means limb removal. Of particular note is the planned removal of all trees in the area at the end of the trail just before the rock platform lookout to create a turning circle for trucks.

“the marking of trees and other vegetation on the Hourn Point trail is related to fire trail maintenance and enhancement work as part of Council’s bushfire management program. This will involve pruning or removal of marked trees, as well as the clearance of ground level vegetation within 2m of the trail margins.

Email from Blue Mountains City Council – September 2021

We understand that there may be some need to prepare this section of road for upcoming fire seasons – but the scale of works proposed seems out of step with the important environmental and recreational values of the area – it is a much loved walk for locals and visitors alike.

Every tree in this photo it to be chopped down by the end of September. Picture a bleak helicopter pad.
Their plan would destroy a shady and tranquil area of natural beauty – home to birds, picnickers and of course climbers.
Anything fringing the edges of the trail by 2m will be removed so that large trucks can go down this track.

Write to the Blue Mountains Council and request a stop work order!

They plan to start this work in the next couple of weeks – your help is needed today! We people to write to the BMCC and ask for this work to be restrained to a level that does not do major harm to the environmental and recreational values of the area. Do all these trees really have to be removed? Does there really need to be a major turning spot for trucks at the lookout?

Send complaint letters to:

Peter Belshaw – PBelshaw@bmcc.nsw.gov.au

Matt Chambers, Natural Areas Manager – MChambers@bmcc.nsw.gov.au

Rosemary Dillon, CEO – RDillion@bmcc.nsw.gov.au

Share this page with friends and ask them to send a letter. Join the Hornes Point Action Group on Facebook for the latest news.

Large mature trees – containing hollows for mammals and birds will be removed.
These majestic squiggly snow gums are destined for the chop.
Mature trees, well of the side of the current track, will be removed to create “passing bays” for vehicles.
All this heath vegetation on either side this of track will be removed.
Is this is the future of Mt Piddington?

Diamond Bay and Rosa Gully access alert

Access to this area is in jeopardy! Please read this important information before climbing here.

Diamond Bay and Rosa Gully access requires climbing a fence that is marked “Keep out, no access”. This fence has been erected to stop suicides and risky selfie takers. In recent years climbers have been approached by NSW Police and Waverly Council rangers when crossing this fence. In 2021 police have reportedly issued fines for climbers crossing this fence during the Sydney Covid lockdown.

A November 16, 2020 Waverly Council meeting confirmed that climbers are not supposed to be receiving infringement notices for accessing climbing areas but authorities will intervene if they believe that members of the public are putting themselves at risk.

“Council enforcement staff have been applying a discretionary approach to enable rock climbers, slack liners and fisherman to access areas at Diamond Bay and Eastern Avenue Reserve. Rangers will not issue infringement notices to this group of people.”

Police attend more than 50 suicides a year along this coastline. A woman fell to her death whilst partying on the cliff edge of Diamond Bay in 2020 and Council rangers and police have been instructed to stop this happening again. The fence is part of their enhanced community safety plan. Below are some examples of what authorities are trying to stop.

Guidelines for climbers

  • Do not cross the fence in front of walkers and sightseers. Don’t create a false alarm by hanging around at the top of the climbing area on the wrong side of the fence. Bystanders may mistake you for a potential jumper and report it.
  • Make it obvious you are a climber by wearing a harness and helmet at all times – put them on in the carpark so there is no confusion about your intentions to outsiders. Always remain harnessed up and attached to anchors when near cliff edges.
  • Be discrete and low key – this is not the place to pose and perform in front of bystanders.
  • Actively discourage any bystanders from climbing the fence to see what you are climbing or to take selfies. The cliffs are for experienced climbers and slackliners only – not a place for tourists to take photos.
  • As a climber please avoid taking photographs of your mates climbing from the cliff top – this will just encourage non-climbers to join you.

If you are approached by police or rangers please follow their instructions and report any interactions to Sydney Climbers Facebook group and Australian Climbing Association NSW (ACANSW) via email president@nsw.climb.org.au

ACANSW suggests you print out page 5 from the 2020 Waverly Council meeting notes and keep this on you when climbing in the area to show to any police or rangers. A screenshot is below:

ACANSW continues to discuss these access issues with Waverly Council and local police in the hope we can maintain access for climbers in future years.

Blue Mountain’s climbers – we need your help!

Blue Mountains City Council (BMCC) is creating a new masterplan for land they manage between Kings Tableland and Katoomba – the Southern Escarpment Masterplan. This would include carparks and approach trails for many well known climbing areas such as Sublime Point, Echo Point, Dog Face and Boars Head. BMCC is asking for feedback from residents and visitors to these areas on how they could manage these sites better. This is an opportunity for the climbing community to request infrastructure improvements to these well used areas.

Continue reading

Blue Mountains Conservation + Culture Forum – May 1st 2021

Australian Climbing Association (NSW) proudly announces the very first Blue Mountains Conservation + Culture Forum – to be held in Wentworth Falls on the evening of Saturday 1st May.

Are you concerned about climbing access issues and want to know how positive change can give climbing a sustainable future? Throughout the evening you will hear from leaders in the climbing community, ecology experts as well as land managers and Traditional Owners. Speakers will include Chris Tobin (Darug), Wayne Brennan (Dept of Environment), Carol Probets (BM Birding), Gavin Phillips (Royal Botanic Gardens) as well as climbers Hugh Ward, Warwick Baird, Neil Monteith and Ian Brown.

This is not an online seminar – it’s a real bums on seats ticketed event with limited numbers – book now at this link to avoid disappointment.

This event is supported by Climbing Anchors and Mountain Equipment. Door prizes from Nomad and Sydney Indoor Climbing Gym.

Blue Mountains Flood Access Update

A once in a lifetime flooding event in March 2021 has caused considerable access issues at Blue Mountains climbing areas. Please read this important information about what crags are closed and what you can do to avoid damaging climbs and approach tracks at our special climbing areas. This post will be updated regularly as events unfold.

This was last updated at 8.00pm – 15 April 2021

This natural disaster is on top of previous massive flooding and the Black Summer bush fires from last year that had already damaged many climbing areas. The advice given here is advisory only – if in any doubt take the cautious approach and stay at home. If you know better information than what is on this page please get in contact and let us know!

Camping in the Blue Mountains

Mt York & Megalong Campgrounds are OPEN. Perry’s Lookout Campground is temporarily CLOSED due to falling tree danger. Big Top is also CLOSED permanently.

Megalong Valley Rd washout 21 March 2021 (has now been partially repaired)

Crag & road closures

The Blue Mountains National Park, Gardens of Stone National Park and Kanangra-Boyd National Park have now reopened – but some access roads in these parks are closed due to flood damage which restricts access to climbing areas. There is also likely to be considerable damage to access tracks, falling trees and high water levels in canyons and creek crossings. Walkers and cyclists may be permitted on closed roads.

OPEN – Bells Line Road between Mt Wilson and Mt Tomah (Pierces Pass, Bowens Creek, Banksy, Mt Banks) has reopened as a single lane 40km/h road. Expect delays during weekends.

CLOSED – Pulpit Rock Road (Bellbird Wall – full closure due to fire and flood damage)

Erosion on tracks

With half a metre of rain pouring onto the mountains in a week we have seen huge damage to approach tracks to many crags. Please avoid crags that do not have “official” hardened tourist tracks to them for at least a week. If you are walking in mud then it’s probably a bad idea to be on that track. It only takes a few people to ruin an approach track for decades to come. Avoid driving on dirt roads – walk if you have to. Consider donating to Crag Care to help finance the inevitable repair of climbing area tracks.

Walking track to Centennial Glen 21st March 2021

Wet rock – stay off!

Blue Mountains rock is incredibly fragile when wet. Climbing on wet rock can break key holds and cause grooves to be worn into the rock from ropes. Please allow our crags to fully dry before pulling on. This extraordinary rain event has dampened every piece of rock – even the caves. Expect to wait for at least a week of good sunny weather before the rock will be fully dry and ok to climb on. If a hold is oozing water on an otherwise dry section of rock please avoid using it. Pick another project. Trad gear is also greatly compromised when placed into wet rock. This applies to all NSW sandstone cliffs including Sydney and Nowra crags.

Shipley is a wet seeping mess

Don’t be a statistic

Local emergency services, including NSW Police Rescue and the SES, are hard at work dealing with flooding and cleanups in the town areas and don’t need the additional strain of rescuing injured or trapped rock climbers in remote areas. We have already seen reports of bushwalkers & kayakers having to be rescued and the public outcry from wasted resources is not a good look. Reconsider visiting remote areas and choose routes that are safe and easy to get to for rescue personal if your day goes pear shaped.

Flash flooding

As the ground is 100% saturated any further heavy rain will cause immediate flash flooding. Some climbing areas are approached via access tracks near waterfalls and canyons. These are not safe areas to be in during flash flood events. You can easily become trapped if rain fall causes flash flooding on the approach trails (in particular Porters Pass is a very susceptible to flash flooding).

Steps down to Porters Pass hit by flash flooding 20th March 2021

Falling trees, landslides and rockfall

As dirt turns to mud the usually solid structure holding everything together is gone. Trees topple when their roots can no longer hold them up in the mud. This is not only a direct danger to your head, but a fallen tree can also block roads and bring down powerlines across paths. Just because you managed to drive into that sneaky crag doesn’t mean you will be able to get out again. We have seen several minor landslides this week, including at Shipley, and there will be plenty more to come. Last years floods saw huge slips at Narrow Neck and Wentworth Falls that removed tracks, ladders and other infrastructure. Who can forget when the whole cliff fell down at Medlow Bath a few years back? Wet weather is what triggers these events. Rock fall is also common for months after fires/floods – even at popular crags. Consider wearing a helmet.

Rockfall damage to walking tracks during floods March 2021
Landslide on ledge below Shipley Upper 23 March 2021

Landslide damage on walk in along Shipley Lower 23 March 2021

Liquid Chalk’s Rosin Problem

What’s the problem?

Many liquid chalk brands currently for sale in Australia contain rosin, otherwise known as pof, gum or colophonium. This substance does not wash off in water and creates highly polished holds over time. Rosin containing brands of liquid chalk should be avoided when climbing outdoors on natural rock and even at commercial gyms. This article will explain the problem and list the brands that are rosin free, and the ones that contain this controversial sticky substance.

Continue reading

Further information regarding access issues

Many climbers will be aware by now of recent media stories implying that rock climbers are disrespectful of Aboriginal cultural heritage, and the environment. Climbers are struggling to comprehend how this perception has come about.

Climbers have generally considered themselves good stewards of the environment, and supportive of Aboriginal rights and causes. The past few years have seen passionate debate, significant introspection and worsening media.  It is clearly time to reflect on this disparity in perception and look at what climbers can do to move forward. 

Whilst the recent SBS stories have been edited to create a narrative that is inflammatory, unbalanced, inaccurate and divisive, the issue remains that climbing has upset some Aboriginal people, and that climbers need to respond to this issue. 

https://acansw.wordpress.com/2020/10/31/in-reply-to-sbs-nitvs-story-about-thompsons-point-climbing/

More balanced reporting would have represented that climbers already have started down the path to improve communication with Aboriginal groups; improve education to foster greater understanding of Aboriginal connection to country;  and improve awareness and understanding regarding reconciliation. Climbers do recognise that there are areas where climbing is inappropriate. 

Balanced reporting would also have represented the substantial stewardship efforts of climbers to preserve and improve the cliff environment through bush regeneration, track work and clearance of illegal dumping. 

Balanced reporting would also have represented that climbers come from diverse ethnic backgrounds, and acknowledged that there are Aboriginal people who also enjoy rock climbing.  ‘Climbers’ are a cross section of society: teachers, nurses, doctors, mechanics, outdoor educators, rangers, landscapers, youth workers and so on, who participate in a recreation that requires focus, determination, calmness, self control, mastery, trust and resilience as much as agility, strength and coordination. Habitual participants don’t climb for an adrenaline rush, an ego boost, or to get “jacked up” as claimed in one story. Climbers clearly need to demystify climbing. 

Thompson’s Point

With regards to Thompson’s Point ( the main focus of these stories in NSW):

Climbing is a lawful activity at Thompson’s Point.

• To protect Aboriginal Cultural Heritage climbing is closed at Mini Wall and the right side of Pocketed wall. This has been the case for several years. Avoiding other routes in proximity to these areas is recommended. The art at both these sites is difficult to see.

• If approached by someone identifying as an Aboriginal telling you to leave, remain calm and introduce yourself. Find out who the person is. Ask them who they represent and where they live. Engage in respectful dialogue. Take notes of what is said in the encounter so if allegations are raised about climbers (as in a circulating petition seeking to ban climbers from Thompson’s Point) they can be refuted. Let ACANSW know about this encounter. Appreciate that a couple of centuries of oppression and social dislocation has led to many aspects of culture and history being forgotten.

• ACANSW and the Illawarra Climbing Coalition have written to the Shoalhaven City Council, the land managers, and its Aboriginal Advisory Council requesting that we work collaboratively with the local community to resolve this issue as quickly as possible. 

What can you do to help the situation? 

• Do not be ashamed of being a rock climber. Take this as an opportunity to re-examine your belief system, what reconciliation means and how you can educate yourself about Aboriginal matters. Recognise that not every rock is appropriate for climbing.

• Do not get angry with people. Try and understand why people, Aboriginal and non Aboriginal, are so willing to believe falsehoods presented in media stories. Stop and think before you engage in social media. Let’s aim to build bridges not walls.

• Speak to your non-climbing friends about this disinformation. If they are so inclined, take them out climbing.

• Arrange an Aboriginal cultural heritage tour with a group of climbers and participate with an open mind. ACANSW and the Sydney Rockies have been doing this regularly. Other opportunities are being lined up in regional NSW.

• Volunteer to help youth mentoring schemes with climbing. 

• Look at joining crag care events in your local region. They exist in Nowra, Sydney, Blue mountains, Newcastle and Central Coast. 

• Join your local climbing organisations ( ACANSW general membership will be available soon). The Sydney Rock Climbing Club, the Canberra Climbing Association, and many universities clubs also exist.

• Encourage your climbing groups to forge links with Aboriginal groups. Be understanding if you find it difficult to engage at first. Aboriginal corporations will be busy prioritising education, health and housing. 

• Examine a climber code of conduct and reflect about how well you meet these ideals. 

Minimal impact basics

• Don’t leave quickdraws on routes overnight.

• Leave the music, noise and swearing at home

• Avoid or remove tick marks

• Minimise chalk use

• Consider toileting strategies and carry an emergency bag system 

Dealing with the media

If approached by a journalist outside of a formally arranged scenario (i.e. you are ambushed at the crag):

Be polite, introduce yourself, find out who they are and the purpose of the interaction. Inform them about the existence of ACANSW and suggest they get in contact. Do not engage by providing comment, and make it clear you do not give permission to be interviewed. Whilst filming people in public spaces is not illegal, journalists should abide by a code of practice. Point out that ambush journalism in a rock climbing setting has serious safety implications to climbers and the film crew. Be prepared to record this encounter yourself with your phone. Do not be sucked in by the tactic of “if you don’t participate we will find someone else who will not represent climbers as well as you might”. Let ACANSW know if you are ambushed by a journalist so we have a heads up on any media attention.

The future

The issues that rock climbers find themselves involved with are centuries in the making, and represent a microcosm of societal problems. All Australians need to work through these issues so a brighter future is shared by everyone. 

The current situation may leave you feeling stressed, angry, depressed, confused and conflicted. Climbing, the medium by which many of us relax and find great pleasure in the outdoors seems under attack. Be thankful that we have the leisure time and means to participate in this wonderful recreation in Australia. If these emotions threaten to overwhelm you, seek help.