Melville's Caves at Mt Kooyoora offers some excellent granite slab routes, some hard layback or jam cracks and a sprinkling of off-widths and chimneys. Grades range from easy solos barely registering on the scale, up to low 20's, with the pick of the lines being "Polish Pride" a protectable but steep, 20 metre small hand to finger crack that demands attention all the way up. About an hours drive from Bendigo near the township of Inglewood, (see map for details), the park also offers a nice picnic area, with mapped bushwalks to points of interest. The caves themselves are nothing special and probably won't hold the attention of an avid spelunker for long, but they do draw the occasional flock of tourists. The Bendigo campus of Latrobe Uni Outdoor Ed department uses the place frequently so don't be surprised if you run into a school of student climbers milling about. On site camping is possible, and facilities such as toilets exist.
There are some bolted lines, but you'll need a trad rack to lead most routes. There has been debate in the past about bolting practices and I believe that all further bolting in the main Melville's Caves section, the courtyard, and indeed anywhere in the park is now prohibited, meaning you may not be able protect some lines on lead and will have to resort to top roping. So don't rock up with your trusty power drill, or Parks Victoria (or whomever is in charge out there) will be on your case.
A good line to get you underway is the slab route "Dead Tree". Drive up to the summit area and hike down to the main lookout, then weave down the track a bit further until you encounter the dead tree at the base of a 15m boulder (pictured right). This is a prime example of a line that lacks lead bolts. You'll have to scramble up from behind and utilise the top rope bolt, which can be backed up from a crack a few metres away. It's a nice slab, and at grade 13 is a good warm up route, or an intro to the area for beginners. I've seen people climb it in their approach shoes, so it's not as frictiony as it looks.
Above Right: Kent top roping "Dead Tree", the 15m grade 13 warm up. There are no lead bolts, only a belay bolt. Below Left: Me leading up the expanding flake of "Tiny Tips", the 27m grade 17, with two bolts protecting the first moves.
From the dead tree, circumnavigating this block in an anti-clockwise direction you'll find a nice line, "Tiny Tips", 27m grade 17 (pictured left), with a couple of bolts protecting the first few moves leading to a flake crack and up onto the same very low angle run-out slab top out as before. The crux, especially if it is wet, is the first few feet. Some people employ the near-by tree to pre-clip the first bolt. The flake can be protected traditionally, with a bit of forethought. Shimming to the top you should be able to use the same crack that you employed to back up the belay for "Dead Tree". So if you have a party of four or so, you can work these two lines simultaneously, and maintain social contact at belays.
Next you might want to check out "Dunf", the 9m grade 16 a few metres further down the track (past "Polish Pride", and past one entrance to the caves), on the big slab. The belay is in a trench with a small tree, and is a right bastard to get to if you want to set a top rope. Never-the-less its a nice line and gives you something to work on while your group eyeballs Polish, and one of your team gets psyched for the lead.
At this point you might be ready to consider going
for gold and taking on the infamous "Polish Pride", 20m grade 21
(pictured below). It's no give away, let me tell you.
If 21 is your lead max, or cracks are not really your thing, I'd suggest
you pass the lead to another. Even on top rope it can be scary, and often invokes
a piercing cry from many a flailing climber, as they search in vain for
footholds that aren't there, and struggle to control the barn door layback
or fight the tricky small hands/finger jams. I've seconded it many a time, sometimes
without hangdogs, but only recently worked up the courage to lead it, despite
the availability of good protection in the crack. It's the kind of route
that completely fails to offer a cosy rest stance from which to place gear
- once you step off that initial block and commit to the face its a continuos,
unrelenting battle. Good luck!
Other lines worth a look in this area are "Tenth Anniversary Climb", the 12m grade 12, which is harder than it looks, and takes the right-hand corner, next to the aforementioned cave entrance. The crux is close to the start, and a certain degree of flexibility might be required. The gear is not that inspiring either, so perhaps don't sandbag your newbie leader up it, with "oh, here's a little easy 12 for ya".
Right: Kent bouldering the start of "Tenth Anniversary Climb", the 12m grade 12 that follows the right side crack. Head towards the light!
In the Lower Summit Area, the pick is probably "High Street Layback", the 8m grade 17 corner crack. Last time I lead it my forearms were already wasted from a previous climb, and I jumped on this line thinking "straight-forward laybacking" - wrong. The top out requires the use of your brain. Lactic acid coursing through my arms forced a downclimb and short, controlled fall. Fortunately I had deployed "Big Bertha", our massive number 5 camalot, which you'll need protect the top out. Not that the last moves are all that tricky, just allow enough fuel for thinking time.
If you have time for a little bush whacking, go in search of "Lost Rox", and check out "Fire & Steel", the 22m grade 18. If you can find it, you'll be rewarded with a gem of a line. However beware the protection. Small, hard to place gear is required, in features such as a thin under-cling flake that an impacted cam could well explode. On the other hand, if you can talk your partner into the lead, you'll be in for a hoot of a second. The crux is the left trending under-cling traverse about half way up.
Our Kent had lead this route before, euphorically clipping the fixed piton (which presumably is the climb's namesake), after fighting past several dodgy placements, and was understandably a little shaken to find it popped easily under body weight on a recent return trip. No-one was game for the lead again, so a top rope served in the photo above. If anyone feels the line has lost historic appeal without this ancient icon, and wants to bash it back in, please feel free to drop me an email, though I personally consider the route safer without its placebo presence. I assume the old peg dates back to the 1984 ascent by Pat Butler & John Pinkard. A cam will go into the slot beside it's original position.
A short drive along dirt tracks ("Kirwans" road, then "Crystal Mine" track) from the summit, and a pleasant but brief 5 minute hike in (see VCC Guide for details), you'll find "The Courtyard" or "Amphitheatre". The old guide had many of the lines going by different names, so you may be confused if you have that version and are comparing route descriptions below.
The area offers some short, but enjoyable cracks, and a few fun chimneys. A good place to start is the short 8m, grade 12 crack immediately on your left as you scramble down into the courtyard, known as "Baby Sitters Delight", or "Quartz Mine Crack", depending on which copy of the guide you have. Even if it's wet you can still play around on it, though the last few moves are unprotected. Try climbing it using the crack only (and bypassing the plethora of good edges), to make it a bit more exciting.
I'd also recommend "Peter's Route" (aka "Dave's Lay"), the 8m grade 14, just around the corner, with the crack finish (pictured left). Try the direct start if you think it's too easy. Popping off as you traverse slightly left to gain the crack is probably not a good idea, given the protection available.
The main event in the courtyard is what used to be aptly named "Strawberry Jam", but now goes by the label "Well I'll Be Jammed". It's the 8m grade 16 crack climb (pictured right) dominating the centre of the smooth block a short way further down and left - you can go through a little tunnel to get to the base. 16 my ass! This lead will draw blood - no question. The first three moves require tricky jamming (hint: look for a small edge on the right face), then as a top rope you can swap into layback position and blast for the summit. On lead, however, this means blindly placing gear. Instead jamming all the way up might be necessary and will hurt like hell. Tape up if you're feeling cheese graterish. Despite this foreboding description this line is the pick of the routes in The Courtyard, offering excitement, challenge and an achievable result.
Also in The Courtyard you'll find a goodly number of fun chimney's and hard, but short crack lines. The "Skinny Man Squeeze" traverse is good for a laugh, just don't get stuck! If you want a real short, but easy line try "Consummate Pleasure", the 6m grade 14. You'll need a massive cam to protect the top out. The way hard, steep finger crack to it's right, "Moe", goes at grade 21. Anyway, search around, and have fun!
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