The Warrumbungles is one-climb-a-day territory for those who know how to place gear with imagination, set belays with flair, test holds before weighting them and know when to ignore the exposure and concentrate on the moves. Altogether it makes for a very worthwhile climbing holiday.
The fun starts with a 6-7 hr drive NW from Sydney. A break to refuel and shop in Mudgee and on to Coona (Coonabarrabran to anyone wth a map). Then a short drive west past the Siding Spring Observatory (where I'm sitting writing this) brings you to the centre of an ancient (15Myr) eroded volcano. Surrounding you are the old lava plugs and dykes; pinacles and walls of sculptored rock from afar become massive solidified trachyte crystals up close - beautiful rock to climb on: faceted, fractured and full of good pro if you look carefully.
Annino and I arrived on sunset and walked in under the moonlight. We camped beside Balor hut, which has a water tank - the only water within easy reach of the climbs, and early the next day headed for Belougery Spire. We started with an easy grade 10 - Vertigo - a very pleasant way to reach the summit. We did it in three pitches: #1 a face and shallow chimney to a cosy belay spot, #2 Up and around a slight bulge to the spacious Tourist Traverse ledge and #3 Up to a slab with unlikely but enjoyable moves. Then we just sat in the sun and talked for the rest of the day!
For day two we tried Bastion Buttress (13) on Bluff Mtn. A 240m, 6-pitch classic. After dinner outside Balor we walked up to Dows camp where we bivvied. Now, I've heard that route-finding in the Warrumbungles is supposed to be a problem but I reckon finding the route is harder! Then again 1-2 hour approach walks add to the sense of adventure and turn a day into an expedition. After some bush-bashing and scrambling we reached the base of the Bluff Mtn cliff and decided to tackle the direct start. This avoids the two-pitch traverse in from the right, about which I've heard a few horror stories. We shared the climb with Madeleine and Liz from ANU Mountainreering Club. The first pitches are a little awkward (the rock strata tries to throw you off the face) but then it turns into a beautiful scramble up an arete with wild exposure here and there, perfect pro for medium cams and hexes (I didn't use one nut) and jugs you can confidently haul on (after you test them;). The climbing is quite three-dimensional - lots of palming-off and bridging. The last pitch or two lay back and woos out and then you have the summit. Lunch and amble back to camp in the afternoon sun. A comfortable 9-10 hrs all up.
If we'd had another day we would have climbed Cornerstone Rib at 14, another must-do classic. And when I can climb harder I'll add in Caucasus Corner (17) and Flight of the Phoenix (18). Now that would be a great week!
A few points:
-Esential reading is Will's page for lots of useful info (getting there, where to camp, access routes, climb descriptions, etc). And some great pics.
-Avoid the Shell servo in Coona, drive on past the Clock tower for cheaper petrol.
-Drop into the observatory to see Australias largest telescope or visit Skywatch (in Coona) in the evening to see stuff thru a telescope.
-I didnt find the climbs run-out, nor route-finding difficult, nor the pro bad. But maybe it is on the harder routes?
-Climb in spring or autumn to avoid the freeze of winter and the sear of summer.
Here are my pictures (not a lot of climbing action, I'm afraid!)
A significant figure problem! What happens if you walk 139m?
Balor Hut. Where the water is!
The local climbers are friendly but less than forthcoming with beta;)
Crater Bluff. Cornerstone Rib on the right.
Annino no longer suffering Vertigo. Actually it was a very nice climb. We spent the rest of the afternoon sitting on the spire discussing life...
Belougery Spire from SW. We did Vertigo (10) in the shady corner to the left.
Annino at belay 1 of Bastion Buttress (13).
Me ariving at belay 2 of BB.
Annino and Liz at belay 3 on BB.
Annino leading out from belay 3 on BB on the best pitch - up the arette to big exposure...and on to a bolt in the middle of nowhere!
Me at belay 4. Belougery Spire and a controlled burn in background. Why did I take so many pics of the belays?!
Liz, Madeleine, Annino and me on top of Bluff Mtn after finishing BB.
Belougery Spire from the W.