There are numerous cliffs surrounding Werribee Gorge, but climbing is banned at all but one or two of them. The most popular by far is "Falcon's Lookout", also known as "The Amphitheatre". From Bacchus Marsh you can access this area via a short walk (approx 30 mins) through some attractive forest. (See VCC guide for more details).
Falcon's Lookout has undergone massive amounts of effort and construction in an attempt at reducing the environmental impact of climbers and tourists alike. You'll find concreted steps, hand rails, fixed "belay posts" (pictured below right) at the top of most lines, bolts a plenty, etc, etc. You'll also find hordes of Melbourne gym climbers, guided groups gang top roping, and first time trad leaders with shinny new racks. Don't be surprised if someone tries to sell you a cappuccino! (Just kidding).
Right: Belay posts can be found at the top of most lines, and should be used instead of slinging the trees. Above Right: The track, in across open paddocks. Left: A girl called "Em" (Sorry I should have asked your name), leading, I believe, "Rusty Nail" grade 17, and our Ben to her right leading "Sweet Chariot", grade 11. Between the two climbers pictured you'll find "Big Ears", the grade 16 corner crack, and "Snatch And Grab", the grade 20 sport route, well chalked up.
Despite this forbidding introduction, Werribee Gorge's Falcon's Lookout cliff face offers an intense array of stellar lines all closely packed into a small and accessible location. There's sport routes and trad routes, tall and short lines, easy and way hard - basically something for everyone, which, coupled with it's close proximity to Melbourne (45 mins drive), possibly explains the existence of the crowds. The gang top ropers, in particular, can be annoying to leaders wanting to tick lines they can occupy for hours. If you can steal a day off work mid-week you may have more luck escaping the masses.
For a good warm up, or beginners intro to the cliff, launch up the three star classic "Sweet Chariot", a 16m grade 11 crack line (pictured above left). You can do a bit of jamming on it, but it's unnecessary. The route can be a tad greasy from over use, but is none-the-less well worth a look. If you're still looking for an easy line, try SPQR (pictured left), the three star, 13m grade 10 near the left side of the crag. It's not simple, but is certainly entertaining and quite popular with beginners. Another good one for a warm up is "Ben Hur", the 17m grade 13 corner crack a ways down the cliff base.
Left: Unknown climber leading "SPQR", the 13m grade 10. Above Right: "Em" continuing her lead, "Rusty Nail" grade 17.
Once you've warmed up, I can recommend "Big Ears", the 14m, grade 16 corner crack. The protection is good and the moves varied and interesting. Steer right at the finish for the more exciting top out. A metre or two right of Big Ears is a very popular line "Snatch And Grab", the 14m grade 20. It's bolted, but you'll need a nut or two to protect the finish, and possibly a micro cam between bolt's two and three if you're feeling mortal. The crux of this route is the delicate facing climbing right off the deck. It involves some balancy moves, off of well chalked side pulls. Fortunately the first bolt is within reach, before the terrain gets too serious. At about the halfway mark the line turns into a jug haul, that is pumpy, but not too bad if you haven't already blown your forearms fiddling with the micro cams I mentioned. It's one of those times when the choice to power through or stop for gear can make the difference between a clean onsight or a hangdog.
Above Right: Me leading "Snatch And Grab", the popular 14m grade 20. Note in the left of the two shots I'm mucking about, perhaps unnecessarily, with micro cams between bolt's two and three. The bold could just power through to clip the third bolt from a stance, using the deep pockets scattered just above. Left: Unknown climber leading "Tina The Ballerina From Passadena", the 15m grade 22 that takes the centre of this block. And our Brett making a top rope attempt on "Barbara Streisand", the 15m grade 23 that hugs the arÍte. Below Right: Lizards show us up, scaling the rock with ease.
To the right of "Sweet Chariot" you find a block with at least two interesting lines worth investigating. I haven't tried the centre line "Tina The Ballerina" (shown left, with the pre-placed draws). However I can recommend "Barbara Streisand", the 15m grade 23 that follows the arÍte. If 23 is one grade higher than your lead max, and you're looking to push into higher grades (yeah number chasing is lame, but still), look no further than this delightful sport route. Big fat, well spaced bolts with fixed hangers. A straight line, no rope drag. No ledges to hit on the way down. The first moves are a cruise, giving you distance from the deck before it gets serious. And best of all, nice sharp edges, allowing for great face climbing combined with a bit of arÍte tugging. If ever there was a 23 I think I could lead this would be it. The climbing eases off towards the finish, but forearm pump ensures continuos excitement.
Left of "Big Ears", you'll find "Conscientious Pontius", the 13m grade 17 layback (or jam) crack. It's a great top rope, but if you do lead it, make sure you protect the crux jamming sufficient so that you'd not hit the nearby ledge at the base (see story at the end of this report). Left again, you'll find "Slave Girl" the 14m grade 22. The guide gives it three stars and it there-fore receives a lot of traffic, mainly as a top rope. However we recently had the pleasure of watching it led (see pictures right and below left). Unfortunately we didn't have the camera at the ready when the dude fell, ripping his top two pieces, almost shearing a lobe off an alien (micro cam, see picture), to land within inches of the ground. Two further pieces, below the one that held, also popped. The climb looks both pumpy and demanding in terms of placing small gear, so perhaps consider this lead carefully.
Above Right: Steve leading "Slave Girl", the 14m grade 22 that requires good placement of small nuts and micro cams. Left: Same leader, same climb. Below Right: What's left of his alien after it failed to hold a fall from 3/4rds of the way up "Slave Girl".
Further down the cliff the array of good routes continues. "Androcles", the 25m grade 16, offers a jam crack start that will make you work, and wonder why you're getting spat off something that is "only 16". I haven't explored the "Side Wall" climbs yet, but will update this page after a few more trips out there.
I've found the term "accident waiting to happen", often applies at Werribee. On a recent trip we noticed a belayer standing way out from the face, with loops of slack at his feet, while a first time leader sketched above, in ground fall potential, trying to replace gear that had fallen out. Obviously the belayer had never caught a fall before. On the same trip we witnessed a trad leader (on "Conscientious Pontius"), take a mighty up-side-down whipper, missing a dinner table sized ledge with his unhelmeted head by a fraction of an inch - I kid you not, it was this close. Said leader then resumed climbing without placing more gear into the crux, and without donning his helmet which lay at the base. So in summary, if nothing else, Werribee offers numerous forms of entertainment, though you may feel a little out of place rocking up with your twin ropes, hexes, raincoat, and 20 year old hike boots, only to be surrounded by young climber dudes, and dudettes in the latest crag wear, with a sparkling new rack of cams or set of draws, and high performance shoes. Never-the-less this very tangible social atmosphere need not be negative, and indeed the first sports bra (or shirtless hunk) sighted will probably win you over. Welcome to the Werribee Gorge experience.
Editor's Note: Local climber Phil Neville, who has made it his goal to tick every line at the crag, offers comments on the routes not covered above. He presents the beta on many of the harder ticks, mentions numerous lines at the Side Wall on the far right of the crag, and gives us his overall recommendations.
Anal Crank, which is situated at the far left end of the amphitheatre, just as you walk down the steps, offers nice steep climbing with a hideously hard start. Itís given a grade of 20+ in the guide; I can assure you itís much harder than this. But I wont spoil it for you by telling you how much harder.
Right: Steve on Anal Crack, 12m grade 20. The arÍte finish is grade 24. You can go straight up the face at about grade 25.
along the cliff you will find the squeezed in French Revolution (22).
Situated a meter left of slave girl; it provides really nice climbing
until you get to the third bolt, where the crux involves a very tricky and
awkward mantle. A much nicer alternative is to step slightly left for an
easier and much more enjoyable finish at about grade 21. Further along the
cliff line and left of the Barbara Streisand arÍte lies a really nice
face climb. Tina the Ballerina from Pasadena (22) is another face climb in
similar vein to Barbara Stresiand. With lots of crimping and shinny new
bolts, this is the perfect climb to try if youíre looking to tick your
first 22. The top out is especially exciting.
Now for the Classic of the crag! Redex Irlont Sudano (24) has to rate as THE BEST climb within an hour of Melbourne, and should be on every climbers tick list. (However, thatís just my opinion). This classic face climb tackles the proudest wall of the amphitheatre. Scary and elegant, every move of this climb feels perfect. Redex offers continuously intricate and sustained climbing up an inspiring line. This route has raised quite a bit of controversy in recent years. When the climb was rebolted, the bolter decided that the splitter crack near the top of the route wasnít worth putting gear in. The result was 2 bolts right next to perfectly good gear placements.
If youíre still in the mood for some surprisingly scary face climbing, you may like to try Nero on a Rampage (24). Donít let the grade fool you! It is MUCH MUCH harder than Redex, and a recent unconfirmed report of a broken hold may mean this climb is significantly harder than the grade stated here. At this point the fence forms a barrier. Holiday Sidewinder (23) tackles the prominent arÍte. I havenít tried it, however it is apparently quite hard for the grade, not to mention bold. You will have to jump the fence and follow the vague path around to the left to find the sidewall climbs.
Note: Caution should be taken in this area as I have had a friend almost killed by a television sized falling rock.
The sidewall climbs give you a chance to escape the crowds of the main cliff while still enjoying some good quality routes. For a good introduction to this area I can recommend Veni Vidi Vici (17). With solid jams and good protection, this route is one of the better jam cracks in the area. The route also offers some nice exposure.
Since I've mentioned exposure, no climb at Werribee sums up exposure better than Pheadron (20). Another classic wall climb, it starts from the ledge down left of Veni Vidi Vici and heads up steeply, finishing in the thin finger crack at the top. This route has NO protection for quite some way and is a very serious lead. I recommend a top rope ascent, before even contemplating leading this route. With any luck, the route may even sprout a bolt down low which would make this a really sweet lead.
The next three routes offer some very hard climbing on good rock:
Too Fucked to Pump (26) offers steep climbing out of the leftmost cave. The route is very thin at the start with the crux being an extremely hard pull onto the face. The rest of the climbing is best resembled to Barbara Streisand. Quite technical climbing on nasty little crimps leads to easier ground on top. The carrot bolts on this climb should not be trusted as many are facing upwards, or are too large to fit a hanger on.
These two sport routes also offer some nice climbing. I havenít tried the left route, Thomas the Crank engine, but I have it on good authority that it is now graded 27?
If your looking for a fun hard sport route, look no further than Fuel the Fire (25). The bolts are all nicely spaced and itís easy to clip the first bolt. On the downside, the position of the first bolt makes the first crux quite difficult, as your hand is on the hold underneath where your draw is. A long hard crank leads to a nasty crimp and technical cross through. This leads to a slight rest with good layaways and easy clip of the second bolt. Hard cranks over the lip lead to a BIG move to poor crimps (crux), then onto easier ground finishing at chains.
Against my better judgment I thought I should include some of the easier routes in this area. They are all terrible and should be avoided at all costs. However, if you are a dedicated masochist you may enjoy them. Sparticus (16), Crispin's Crispian (16), Cochium (18) and Cochium Diagonal (19) all offer steep thrutching with poor pro, worse rock and really quite unpleasant climbing. But if youíre still keen, by all means donít let that put you off.
While on the topic if thrutching, Iím sure you would have noticed Golgotha. Itís the landmark corner at the far right end of the major wall. It will accept your entire body and can only be safely led with numerous number 5 or 6 cams. As stated in the Southwest guide, ďThere may be an elegant way to do it, but it usually becomes a pumpy grovelĒ.
Right: Hadrian Direct Finish, 12m grade 20.
If you're after a good old fashioned crack climb, I suggest you take a look at Conscientious Pontius (17) or Hadrian (20). Located just right of Slave Girl these twin cracks offer short, but sweet climbing. The leftmost crack, Conscientious Pontius (17), loves number 2 camalots almost as much as it loves spitting off unsuspecting leaders. One day I witnessed a Germen climber onsight "Nero on the Rampage" (24/25). He then asked me to point him in the direction of a nice trad route. I pointed him in the direction of Conscientious Pontius. I was quite surprised to see him take 3 or 4 rests and eventually lower off. So take my advice and donít underestimate this route. Most importantly, ensure you protect the crux so as you donít land on the large ledge below. Moving across to the finger crack, Hadrian, will also challenge you. The original route which veers off to the right at the ledge is worthwhile if you're not up to leading grade 20 on natural gear. However, the route is much more enjoyable if you do the direct finish, just ensure you place a high cam, so you donít land on the ledge. It is slightly contrived as you're not supposed to use the tempting block on the right, but you donít need it as long as you trust your gear.
I have found that at Werribee Gorge, a lot of the climbs that are given stars tend to have only a few meters of nice climbing, then a loose ramp to the top. Just past the Barbara Streisand arÍte you will find Ben Hur (13). With nice jamming and bridging to start, itís just a shame once you're on the ledge itís a ramp of loose stone to the top. There are numerous routes between Ben Hur and Golgotha. Personally I only enjoyed two of them. Marcus Shaevola (15), gets no stars in the guide, but I quite enjoyed. Nice steep bridging and a tough move near the top overhang make this an enjoyable route. Further right is Androcles (16). It heads up the splitter crack through a bulge at about 3 meters. This is another route that has a tendency to spit off unsuspecting leaders. Hint: look for holds in the crack.
Well that about sums up the better routes at Werribee Gorge. There are others in the guide, you may enjoy them, but the selection given here is in my opinion the cream of the crop, and is sure to keep you happy for numerous sunny Sunday afternoons in the Gorge (a.k.a. Top Rope City).
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