Access & Environment Report August 2018

Simple Equations

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 Many codes of conduct, any operational guidelines or policies soon become outdated as the activity outgrows the very guidelines put in place to protect it or the space in which it exists.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

Chalk impacts

Wire brushing

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.

Tracey Skinner
VCC Access & Environment Officer

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Access & Environment Report June 2018

I recently took advantage of a moment in time and a conversation that was happening on Chockstone to add some comments. here This is from my perspective as an Access officer that deals directly with Land managers, Traditional Owners and a variety of other stakeholders. This is also alongside my interactions from members of the climbing community as well. Which is who I work for. I do this regularly on discussions I come across be it social media, in person, forums etc. A separate thread was then started by a forum member to begin a conversation around ‘the bigger picture’ element of the original topic, following my comments. here This forum conversation was tackling one of the issues that I have been noting for a while now in Access reports and articles – fixed protection and development in the Grampians National Park. Land manager and Traditional Owner concerns have been escalating and this year would need to see the climbing community put some difficult conversations on the table. About how we develop new areas and how we use fixed protection in a National Park that besides its environmental values, has a high percentage of cultural heritage. And where many of these cultural heritage sites exist around rock. And in a nutshell, to be part of the solution and have a place at the table. I further commented on this thread and asked if the original poster was happy for me to direct the wider community to it. Something, which he himself had noted would need to happen with this kind of conversation. More voices the better was the general feedback from many on the thread. And so I did via the CliffCare website and social media. This report is not so much about the topic itself – that will be the next Access report for July – but rather, as I noted above, some clarification about the conversation taking place on Chockstone. I have included the post from the CliffCare website below and following that, a little clarification on the Chockstone discussion-

CliffCare website post May 19 https://cliffcare.org.au/2018/05/19/fixed-protection-development-guidelines-grampians/

So, whilst most of the points I note below have actually been noted in my original post and in further comments on Chockstone thread itself, I will further clarify this:

The conversation was started by an individual, and as an Access officer for the climbing community, I took advantage of the situation to encourage it to continue. To talk about a difficult topic and throw some ideas around and so, in the longer term, also provide myself with feedback and some ideas and help, for draft framework.

This conversation, and I applaud all who have commented, is just that, a conversation to help develop some kind of draft guidelines. It doesn’t mean that everything is or will be endorsed by the VCC and CliffCare. Noting on a post that the VCC and CliffCare is involved in this means that this topic is something that I am dealing with in my work in Access and my job is to help find a solution and engage the community in diaglogue. Everything will be taken on board. From Chockstone and any other avenues. As was always the intention. The opportunity to comment other than on Chockstone was offered on the CliffCare post and also on the forum post The conversation wasn’t going to stay on Chockstone.

The guidelines that will be developed are guidelines from the climbing community’s perspective. They obviously need to take on board some of the issues we are dealing with but they are not Parks Victoria guidelines or policies. They will eventually be VCC guidelines, that the climbing community has helped put together and can reference. Just like the Climbers Code of Conduct that was developed a number of years ago. By climbers (and as a point of interest, much of it occurred via Chockstone) I am hopeful that once we have some of our own guidelines that address some of the issues that will impact our climbing, that further on, we can sit at the table and include ourselves in feedback on park guidelines on climbing.
As an added to this, the VCC Bolting Policy is currently being updated. This is an overall policy on bolting, not just about the Grampians. It is also not a Parks Victoria bolting policy.

There appears to be some resistance from some quarters about the conversation being on Chockstone in the first place. I will be the first to agree that sometimes Chockstone can be a frustrating place, either from the fact that you might have to wade through pages of conversation (the hint is in that word) or the fact that some vocal forum members may shout you down, bully a bit or direct it off topic. Not always a joyous experience. But, I use it the same way as I use every other info point from private fb groups to public ones, public pages, route databases etc etc. It is not a perfect system. Chockstone does at least provide instant real time conversation that accommodates every user that wants to join. And this kind of instant feedback is so helpful in my job. And when I see a topic that I can add knowledge to from my job perspective, I will comment. This was a conversation that was started by a member of the climbing community. Even outlandish – in his words. And good on him. There was some good robust discussion from all, that in my opinion didn’t sink to personal slanging. There were differences of opinion sure. If it had been started on theCrag, would it be more relevant? Or on a private climbing page on Facebook? Other than those talking on Chockstone, and from a couple of private emails with some great points to offer I may add, it has been quiet. Having said that, the thread has been viewed over 15,500 times. Even with return visits that’s a lot of community reach.

It is disappointing as it seems that the fact that a conversation, that all were invited to was started on a forum that wasn’t to everyone’s taste, has taken over the actual important discussions itself. Perhaps it’s more about the conversation topic rather than the mode.

The conversation will be continuing. Via articles, surveys, social media, route databases and Chockstone. It just takes a little while. And all will be taken on board. Please be involved.

More will be in the next report for July. And again, if you don’t feel comfortable about putting comments out into the public domain, send me an email cliffcare@vicclimb.org.au

Access & Environment Report May 2018

Indigenous cultural heritage -As noted in previous reports, the education tab is being updated with info. Here is the latest brief outline on Indigenous cultural heritage. There will be a lot more conversations around this in the future. More info and downloads on the tab itself.

INDIGENOUS CULTURAL HERITAGE
With climbing and bouldering becoming more popular in the cities now – through the growth of climbing and bouldering gyms – it means that more people are heading out to the parks to try it outdoors. On rock. Needless to say, quality rock is of huge importance here.
Rock also plays a huge part in the history of the indigenous people. They used it for shelter. They held ceremonies on and under it and of it. And they told their stories on it. With so much indigenous history now gone, ensuring that what remains is conserved, is of the utmost importance.
And this is where the co-habitation of climbing/bouldering and indigenous cultural heritage can be a delicate and sensitive path that we must tread.
Maybe in years gone by, cultural heritage wasn’t so much of a priority when it came to people getting outdoors and pursuing their activities. But hopefully we know better now. And we know more. Awareness of cultural heritage has been something that, we at CliffCare, have been trying to encourage the climbing community to engage it. With Traditional Owners now in joint and co-management in a variety of parks, the conversation is one that is coming up more regularly.
There will be more discussions on this and hopefully many climbers come to the table to help us progress on workable solutions to use many of the same places whilst protecting the history of the indigenous people. On the Education tab, there are a variety of thoughts, articles and info downloads to start you thinking. A few words below from Gordon Poultney from the first Grampians Bouldering guidebook a number or years ago. Whilst it was written in relation to boulderers and the guidebook, the info is the same for climbing. Bracketed words have been added to the quote. Food for thought.

Picture this. The city that you and your friends and family have lived in for hundreds of generations has just been taken over by other people. Very different people. Massacres, murder, rape and new diseases have decimated your kind to a fringe dwelling existence where once you were free. Your sports stadiums, war memorials, churches and art galleries have largely been destroyed or defaced beyond recognition… There’s no reason for us as boulderers (climbers) to add to this dispossession. Please don’t climb over or near rock art sites. Not only is it illegal but morally wrong to do so. It is culturally arrogant for us to pass ill informed judgement on the quality, merits and value of rock art sites.
No fires, particularly not in caves. If you’re cold put on more clothes or go home.
Wherever you go in the Grampians – if you know what to look for – you will find evidence of the Indigenous peoples who lived in the area, from rock art, tree scarring to the quarrying that you will see at nearly every crag in the Grampians. This heritage is extremely precious, and as boulderers (climbers) we have a particular responsibility to tread carefully because rock art often occurs in the kinds of places where we like to climb – overhanging caves. If you have even a suspicion there is rock art in a cave, don’t climb in it. There is plenty of rock, and no single boulder problem (or rock face/cave) is worth damaging rock art for, or risking our access to these areas.
https://cliffcare.org.au/about/education/indigenous-cultural-heritage/

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One of the many examples of rock art that occur in the Black Range. Some are not so noticeable as this one and are faded and often only seen once one is aware it is there.

Access & Environment Report April 2018

I have been spending some time adding and updating info on the CliffCare website. At the moment I am focusing on the Education tab. Some of these topics will eventually be part of a poster and video campaign but all are definitely issues to take on board as climbers. First up:

Trails

Marking and Maintaining Access trails

Keeping on Track. Simple concept hey?

Staying on trail.          But which trail?                What if there is no trail?
(Established trail)      (Multiple social trails)    (New climbing and bouldering)

Hmmm….Now it sounds a bit more complex.

As more people take up climbing and bouldering and then head into the bush, the issue of trails – the creation and the maintenance of them, becomes more and more a topic on the land managers blackboard. This then becomes more of an issue that we in the climbing community, need to take on board and work towards resolving. So addressing some of the problems now, hopefully can prevent them into the future as new climbing areas are created.

Why is staying on the trail so important?

Fragile plant life. Walking off trail means you will be trampling vegetation. Much of this is fragile. The parks now more than ever are also at risk of invasive plant species – weeds. Some of the native vegetation is in a struggle to survive as it is. Once it is gone, it basically allows the often stronger invasive species to take over with the indigenous plants never returning.

Erosion and Instability. A domino effect. When you trample vegetation, over time it doesn’t regenerate, leaving the top soil exposed. This is then lost through a combination of foot traffic,rain and wind. The problems with this are multiple. Gullies are formed and become water runnels which further erodes the area. As the gullies deepen, people walk a little further to the side to avoid them and the process starts all over again. Wider and wider sections of vegetation are lost and the trails and surrounding area become unstable.

So, First and Foremost –

Stay on the established trail. That means going into and out of a climbing area. In most cases established trails, whether they are formal ones created by land managers or the informal climbers access tracks, have been created to provide sustainable routes. If the trail is muddy or vegetation grows across, continue to stick to the trail rather than travelling wider to avoid. This just creates a new track or a wider one. Going off trail damages the environment. For all the reasons noted.

Creating New Tracks

The reality of developing new climbing and bouldering areas often means that people will go off track. If there is no way of staying on an established trail, please do this thoughtfully. And minimally. Guidelines to take onboard –

Choose the less steep option. Unless it is on a rock surface, steepness means erosion later on. Switchbacks are better options for steep ground. Going steep because it cuts a little time off getting to the climb isn’t worth the loss of our native habitat.

Gullies aren’t great as access tracks. Gullies are formed by water which means that excessive foot traffic will further speed up the erosion process as the gullies become deeper.

Stay on durable surfaces ie rock whenever possible, to spare fragile plant life.

Digging and disturbing soil – leave the tools at home. All of the parks in Victoria are required to adhere to the Aboriginal Act (2009). And before any soil can be moved, a cultural heritage inspection needs to take place to ensure that no cultural heritage is being impacted by soil being moved. For instance, if Parks Victoria want to put in a new trail, they are required by law to first get clearance to do so and that means getting a cultural heritage inspection along with a variety of other requirements.

Don’t install any infrastructure.

Refrain from cutting or breaking any native vegetation to create a trail.

And lastly – if there are any areas on climber’s access tracks that have issues, be it erosion, fallen trees, new multiple social tracks growing etc, drop CliffCare a line cliffcare@vicclimb.org.au and we can go from there. It is up to us to try and prevent and manage issues before they become major but as they are generally in state and national parks, it is also about going about this in a more thoughtful way and working with the land managers.

This can be found here: https://cliffcare.org.au/about/education/tracks/

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Pre fire. Track near Stapylton Ampitheatre

 

Access & Environment Report March 2018

On Saturday 3rd March, CliffCare took part in CleanUp Australia day at the Grampians. Along with Parks Victoria, Friends of Gariwerd, Halls Gap Primary School and community members, we managed to collect a whopping 64kgs of rubbish. Great work but sad that the public still finds it acceptable to throw that one piece of rubbish……

Rebecca Hopkins, Adam Demmert and Cameron Abraham scored the job of abseiling down some of the lookouts. Because that’s the best place to piff rubbish off. As all are accredited climbers ie guides, rope access, it means their skills can be used to access the hard to get to places. Not being an accredited climber, I scoured the car park areas and walks in to the Balconies. Fellow climber Neil Kelman from Ballarat also came for the day and he joined the Friends of Gariwerd team in and around Halls Gap.
Bec, Adam and Cam scored piles of bottles and cans along with the usual papers and packaging. As well as some randoms such as boomerangs (which obviously didn’t come back), fluffy toys, camera and large bits of metal. I feel I had the choicest finds of which the bulk was….toilet paper. Thank goodness for those large long handled tongs! At the end of our day we had 8 bags of rubbish.
After the work was done, we headed back to Hall’s Gap to a yummy bbq and told our tales of interesting finds, the excited audiences at the lookouts we attended and had a bit of a moan about the laziness of some of the public and what was the world coming to etc etc.
Great day all round. Huge thanks to Conor Smith and Hannah Auld who are Summer rangers with PV in Halls Gap. They organized the event and it worked like clockwork.We had some great convos and laughs with Conor at the Lookouts and Hannah held the fort back at the Gap. Thanks to Rod and Judith for filling the stomachs upon our return.

People, clear your calendars for the date next year – Sat 2nd March.
Biggest thanks to Rebecca Hopkins, Adam Demmert, Cameron Abraham and Neil Kelman who put their hands up straight away and helped out on the day. Thanks also to Kieran Loughran who put his hand up but some unfortunate admin requirement stopped him from attending. Next year Kieran!
CliffCare looks forward to being involved with the event next year. Wouldn’t it be great though if we only came back with a bag or two next time.
Tracey Skinner
VCC Access & Environment Officer

Access & Environment Report Feb 2018

Mt Difficult Access
Following a few queries via both email and on climbing forums, it makes sense to clarify the access situation into the Mt Difficult climbing area via the now closed Troopers Creek campground. You can check out in full, an early announcement I made on this in 2016, via the link at the end, but to summarise –

Access to the cliff climbing area at Mt Difficult from Troopers Creek campground(now closed) is as previous, although the trail is now noted on Parks Victoria website as closed. It is closed as an official walking track due to extensive damage in the North Grampians fire, and a variety of other reasons which include a nearby section of the GPT being planned. The Troopers Creek campground is also now permanently closed. The impetus for this was the GPT with a new campground slated for Dead Bullock Creek that will line up with a Trailhead and the newer section of the GPT. There were also some cultural heritage concerns near the old campground. The trail won’t be repaired so therefore it is no longer an ‘official’ trail that they promote as such to park visitors. After discussions, it was agreed that climbers could access the cliff via the old track but it must be noted that the track is quite damaged in some sections and access may not seem as clear as before. From these discussions, it appears there may also be access near the new campground once finished, but this will be a longer walk in than the present one.

The area is open for climbing now.

The old trail will not be part of the GPT.

I would be really keen to hear from any climbers who have been accessing Mt Difficult via this access point.

A little from a report in 2016 which gives a little more background https://cliffcare.org.au/2016/08/31/access-report-september
This conversation has brought up further ones about climbers tracks, creating them and also maintaining current tracks. I hope to have the CliffCare website updated on some points to take on board soon. https://cliffcare.org.au/about/education/tracks/

Tracey Skinner
VCC Access & Environment Officer

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Access & Environment Report December 2017

Last Access officer report for the year.
Discussions are still ongoing with regards to the Black Range issues. As I noted in previous reports, this has thrown the discussion much wider than just the Black Range. Cultural heritage and how climbing may impact sites, is firmly on the table. This throws up many questions without as yet, answers. These questions are not just limited to climbing but obviously our focus is trying to provide some answers and sustainable options for climbing to co-exist with cultural heritage in the parks. And the Grampians is the top of the list when it comes to climbing and bouldering sites. And top of the list when it comes to cultural heritage. Especially around rock sites. As the sport of climbing and bouldering becomes more and more popular, the growth of gyms in the city increases and the push to get more people outdoors enjoying recreational pursuits – one of the biggest questions is ‘With rock a finite source, and climbers an infinite source, how do we manage this?’ For some, on either side of the table, maybe the answers are very simple – stop the recreational activity and on the other side continue the recreational activity as always. These are both the easiest options in many ways, but neither of them are fair nor sustainable in the long term. The middle ground or somewhere thereabouts is where we need to get to but this won’t be easy. There are a myriad of other queries and issues within the bigger question and these all need to be discussed. In the new year, I am aiming to ramp up these discussions and to get the climbing community asking themselves the harder questions. And coming up with some solutions that are agreeable to the majority.

One of my difficulties with this, is capturing feedback and collating it, and on some kind of platform that requires minimal management. There are numerous avenues such as CliffCare website, Chockstone, Facebook, theCrag that I visit regularly to gather info from the climbing community. But this can be very time consuming and fragmented. Any suggestions as to a platform that could work better in order to present topics and discussion on this subject to the wider climbing community would be great.
In the meantime, throw the question around in your head, discuss with your fellow climbers and come up with some starting point thoughts.
This Parks Victoria community update just arrived with some words on the issue GNP Community Update December 2017

Plenty Gorge Draft Master Plan is now out for community feedback. We have been in communication with Parks Victoria since the beginning of this and it’s good to see that climbing is to be considered. The particular area where climbing used to occur was under private hands and it was eventually banned by the private landowner. It is currently in the process of being handed back, to once again be public land. Once this has officially taken place, we will be able to engage in proper discussion with PV.  It would be great if people from the climbing community provide some feedback on this. The link for feedback is below. The area is Middle Gorge. Any positive words with regards to including climbing in the future of the park once acquisition is in hand, would be great. And for those that are into mountain biking, this is also a good chance to be involved in the future of the park.
http://parkweb.vic.gov.au/explore/parks/plenty-gorge-park/plans-and-projects/plenty-gorge-park-master-plan

The photos below show a few moments in the last 2 working bees in Central Gully, Mt Arapiles. Great progress being made getting a decent pile of rocks down the track for Walter to work on. One more working bee to go before the end of the year. This next one is being run in conjunction with a trip so check out the VCC trip calendar if you are wanting to join the trip. Otherwise drop me a line or just rock up. 9.30am 16th December. Meet at the top of Central Gully. Wear closed toe shoes and bring water. Simple as! Think of it as a big Christmas present to the Mount.
Great work all and many thanks for your support in Access work. See you all in the new year.
Tracey Skinner – VCC Access & Environment Officer.

This below wasn’t included in my report for Argus but was in Argus as a small photo essay from Michael O’Reilly on the memorial bench that was burnt in the Northern Grampians fires and it’s replacement. A thoughtful piece that not only shows the bench and plaque replacement for the climber who died at Summerday but also the new growth of the bush. Kind of works well together and I thought it worth showing.