Ben Cairn is a sometimes mossy granite outcrop situated about an hour and a half east of Melbourne, not far from Healesville. It's a small, but very picturesque mountain residing in a heavily forested region not suitable for climbing during winter. Described by Mike Law as "possibly the worst cliff in the world, with some of the best climbs", you'll either love it or hate it. Either way, it's only five minutes walk in from the road, and contains at least half a dozen routes worth a look (and quite a few in need of a clean) protected by a mixture of bolts and trad gear. If you're climbing well at grade 26, you could probably knock off all the routes in single day trip. The tourist guard railing makes for fast belay or top rope set ups. Just about every route has some friction slabbing involved, so if this is not your bag, I'd suggest you reconsider. The rock itself is very fine grained, making the slab moves sometimes slippery. However, I'd rate this crag as one of the best in east Victoria. Well worth the trip for Melbournites.
Above Right: Owen leading "Pancake Flake" 30m grade 18.
To gain access take the Maroondah Highway out of Melbourne to the pleasant little berg of Healesville. (See: Approach Map). On the other side of town, past the bridge, turn right down Don road for 9.8km to a junction, and after a further 8km (road will have become dirt) you'll notice a sign stating "Ben Cairn 1040m". Head 5 minutes up the foot track to gain the crag. From the lookout, plunge into the bush where the guard railing begins on your left (as you peer down), following a fairly well defined climbers path to the base.
Circling around, you'll pretty quickly come to the 30m grade 18 trad line "Pancake Flake" (pictured above), which shares the first bolt of "Digit Dancer" at grade 20, the later of which continues on past another two bolts on rounded smooth holds. Both routes are recommended climbing, though beware the small wires or micro cams required to protect the Pancake Flake itself and save a micro cam for protecting the top out slabbing. The midway tree ledge is a bomber rest.
Moving further along the base you'll come to "Skating Away" (pictured above), the 22m grade 19 that begins in a well protected, and easy looking crack system. The crux however, is hauling out of the crack onto the slab above and braving the 4m run out to the fat bolt above. Note the bolt is too fat for a plate and will require threading with a wire. Popping off while clipping this bolt will put you very near a deck out, so make very sure you sink a couple of bomber cams into that crack before leaving it's safety. The friction slab moves above the bolt aren't a give away either, with zero further pro until to summit. A bold lead!
A few feet left again and you'll come to the area's prize attraction "Fiction" 20m grade 26 with it's two or three bolts, though easily top roped. It's hard as all hell, with mantles off of nothing holds and all sorts of difficulties, which begin very soon after the first bolt.
For something far easier, wander further along until you reach "Flapjack" the 12m grade 19 crack climb, that begins below a fixed piton and summits a few feet away from the far end of the guard railing above. (It's possible to walk straight back down from the pseudo top out ledge, via a steep descent gully). I managed to onsight Flapjack, and consider it the nicest of the 19's on the crag, despite it being quite a struggle. Bring a shit load of micro to #2 camalot sized cams and you can basically sewn the thing up. Save a #1 camalot size for the top out moves. There's a nice slot for this piece above the otherwise flared section of the crack that is comforting to find. The moves are all pretty hard, but broken by at least one, almost no hands, rest stance about mid-way. The right wall of this open book corner looks useless for stemming, but don't discount it entirely.
Above: Michael onsighting "Flapjack", 12m grade 19. Below Left: Owen on "My Brilliant Career" 12m grade 19.
Once you've fired up "Flapjack", utilise the same top belay for a quick run up "Frankenstein and the Wereturkeys", the 12m grade 19 that begins just left of the arÍte. The crux is the opening moves to the first bolt, meaning you're asking for trouble to lead it, though once you have the moves wired it's not that hard. Above the bolt it's a cruise to the same pseudo top out ledge as for Flapjack. If you peer up and left through the trees a bit, you'll also notice a clean slab hiding amongst the moss. This is "My Brilliant Career", the 12m grade 19, super delicate slab route. The first of two bolts is a fair way off the deck, given the easy but moss covered opening moves (bring a wire brush?). Once established on the clean slab above, do not expect a single decent edge to rest on until the top out. A psychologically draining lead, though fun on top rope if pure smears friction slabbing is your thing.
For a small crag there's quite a number of climbs at Ben Cairn, however, bear in mind that many of them may require cleaning, and a few are totally overgrown with moss. On the other hand, the routes mentioned above and several others were scourged free of vegetation, and more than ample to fill in a very enjoyable day. I definitely recommend Ben Cairn as a day trip destination for Melbournites, or others not too far away. Its fine grained granite is reputed to be slippery, but we managed well enough, and I consider the area one of best of the Eastern districts.
Raspberry Ripple 12m 14
Plum Jam 12m 14
* Pie in the Sky 14m 15
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