No-one can deny that the amount of people now heading into climbing and going outdoors has grown since the early heydays of climbing. And by that simple statement, I am sure that the majority of you can relate to the fact that as anything grows, its wants, needs, advancements and issues, grow along with it. Many codes of conduct, any operational guidelines or policies soon become outdated as the activity outgrows the very guidelines put in place to protect it or the space in which it exists.
In more recent months, some conversations around fixed protection and development in the Grampians has come to the fore. Some people are asking why? What’s the problem? Rather than outlining too much here, I will leave it up to the reader to read back over previous Access reports. It is all there.
Fixed protection is one element of the bigger picture. It is not the only one. We will need to deal with all.
The biggest issue though that has an overall impact on all of the issues we need to deal with, whether it be environmental, cultural heritage or sharing the space with others, is growth. The amount of people now climbing, bouldering and accessing the outdoor option is growing and will continue to. Which means that the impact is much greater. How climbing was managed, or not managed previously, is no longer looking after the space and in the longer run, looking after the activity.
A complex conversation. There are land manager and traditional owner perspectives. There are climbing community ethics. There is the evolution of climbing and bouldering. And there are rules and regulations. The reality is all do change over time. Which means that we all need to reassess what works. It is something we do everyday in many aspects of our life and the world we live in. Especially if it’s due to growth. It’s why we re- assess our energy options, why we re-assess the way we package our food, our lives… The sheer volume has an impact.
Climbing/Bouldering is no different. That moment in time and the joy of being on rock both spiritually and physically, simply isn’t the only thing anymore that we have to think about. The sheer volume is having an impact and those impacts are relayed to me directly by those who are tasked with looking after the space, as well as those who also share it.
Victoria has a range of climbing areas across the state with the most heavily visited being the Grampians National Park and Arapiles Tooan State Park.
So why the current focus on the Grampians? Because at this moment in time the impacts via climbing and bouldering are growing and being relayed to me, as now no longer acceptable in the current state of play. So how do we manage this? There are so many questions and there will be many conversations moving into the future. So as a starter, some food for thought, some direction for conversations for the climbing community. On a rope. On a boulder. Or over a beer.
A few points of interest:
The bulk of cultural heritage ie indigenous art sites, sacred locations occur in the Grampians. The Victoria Range in particular has the highest percentage of all known and registered sites in the park. A large amount of these sites are also rock sites.
The majority of Indigenous cultural heritage sites that are known and registered are not known to the general public. It is against the law for Parks Victoria or anyone else with that information, to notify the public of their exact locations.
It is a National Park. It’s main aim is to conserve its natural and cultural values. Any recreational activities need to sit alongside these values but with minimal damage/loss to them. Impacts will differ from location to location
Climbing is a recognised activity in the park and one which is promoted. There are some areas within the park that are particularly sensitive for either cultural or environmental reasons and climbing amongst other activities, is not allowed.
The Grampians National Park is moving towards a Joint Management Plan whereby it will be managed by both Parks Victoria and Traditional Owners.
Land Manager and Traditional Owner Concerns – Grampians National Park
Direct impacts to cultural heritage sites
Route development in known areas of cultural heritage significance and therefore possible impacts to undiscovered sites
Environmental impact to surrounding cliff landscapes due to increased traffic. Excessive social trails especially in bouldering areas
Human waste issues at climbing/bouldering sites/bush camps
Increased use of fixed protection
Vegetation removal to access climbing or bouldering sites or the actual routes
Current management plan boundaries not being followed
Questions & Actions – to ask yourself, your climbing friends, to ponder, to respond.
Climbing and Bouldering Route developers:
Check the park management plans. Understand the environmental and cultural heritage values of the park and the particular areas you are developing. Does the plan prohibit climbing in that area? Is there a high level of sensitive cultural heritage in the area. Rare flora or fauna in a threatened habitat?
Caves and overhangs often have a higher likelihood of cultural heritage. Bouldering development can impact a larger area either directly or indirectly with traffic and multiple social trails, within a location that contains a high percentage of sensitive sites.
Don’t know? Ask.
When using fixed protection:
Alongside the perspectives of land managers and park management plans, this brings up the topic of climbing ethics within the climbing community ie traditional and sport climbing. A complex and often divisive one. And a changing conversation as our sport has evolved. That fixed protection is an element of climbing is not denied, but how and when, is the conversation we will need to have. At this point in time, climbing in the Grampians (and Victoria) has operated on the understanding that if it goes at trad it should remain so. Fixed protection besides the physical impact, can increase the traffic to an area so this should be taken into account. The following points are some suggested already by members of the climbing community that might go some way towards helping to manage this one aspect in the future. Only a guide at this point but something to develop further.
Is the route you wish to bolt in a predominantly sport climbing area?
Is the route in a sensitive area be it cultural heritage or a fragile environmental landscape?
Is the route you wish to bolt naturally protectable?
Is the route visible from major tourist/public tracks or areas?
Do you have sufficient knowledge of and experience in placing fixed gear? Same as in the case of removing it.
If you are considering retro-bolting the route, do you have permission from the person (s) who made the FA?
As noted , climbing is a recognized activity in the park. We are working towards a joint understanding between all parties for a sustainable climbing future. There will be many conversations like this. Throw this info around in your head. Ask the questions in your groups. Your help via feedback, support for closures that may be in place and a little extra care when developing or out climbing or bouldering, can and will make a difference. Any thoughts on this you want to send me? I am very keen to hear. Drop me a line. Any other way you think you can help, maybe a particular issue you feel passionate about – there are always jobs. Drop me a line.
Many thanks to all the people from the many different avenues of our climbing community who have taken the time to provide their thoughts, be it publicly or privately. It all goes into the pot.
VCC Access & Environment Officer