Easter is just around the corner, which means many of you may be heading outdoors to places like Arapiles and the Grampians.
The Grampians, Victoria’s world-class bouldering and climbing Mecca, has suffered several years of fire and flooding.
While many areas previously closed are now open, they’re still fragile and recovering.
We teamed up with CliffCare Victoria to bring you everything you should know about fire-affected climbing areas.
What happens in fires
“In really hot fires, like those that occurred in the Northern Grampians, it’s not just the canopies that burn,” explains Tracey Skinner, Access and Environment Officer at CliffCare Victoria. “Everything is burnt to the ground, which means there’s loose soil, and nothing to hold it together.”
How long do landscapes take to recover?
“It depends on rainfall and how badly they were burnt,” says Tracey. “In areas where the fire was really hot, there’s nothing left. They’re dependant on rainfall – to encourage the growth of new plants, whose root systems will hold soil together – but they’re also dependant on not having massive rainfall all at once, because with no vegetation to hold the soil, tracks wash out.”
How do authorities decide when to re-open a climbing area?
“CliffCare gets together with land managers – like Parks Victoria – and we ask ourselves, should we open it? Can the area handle traffic? Would people stay on this track? Would they only visit the specific crags that are open? When it comes to climbers, the answer, generally, is no. I suppose that’s where we shoot ourselves in the foot sometimes,” Tracey says.
“If authorities had their way, all of the areas in the Grampians affected by fire would benefit – environmentally – from not being open,” says Tracey. “We opened Taipan because we thought, Which of the areas can handle it more? The Stapylton area was in the best position, and was going to allow climbers and walkers to access a certain areas and alleviate the problem of all areas being closed for a huge amount of time.”
Deciding to climb in areas that are open, but clearly still fire-affected
“People need to say to themselves, Okay, does this area need lots of people heading in? Or are there other places I can climb to give it a bit of time to recover?” Tracey says. CliffCare is urging people to consider whether they should be climbing in areas that are officially open, but clearly still fragile and recovering.
“It comes down to people taking responsibility and doing the right thing,” she says.
How to reduce your impact
If you choose to visit areas that are open, but delicate, here are some tips to help you reduce your impact.
Stay on track
Stick to designated paths.
Why? Landscapes recovering from very hot fires – like those in the Grampians – are often lacking in groundcover. Plants can take years to re-establish themselves, and until they do, the landscape is vulnerable to invasive weeds.
These environmental nuisances are introduced via car tyres and people’s shoes. Unbeknownst to you, seeds stuck in the tread of your soles may hitch a ride and embed themselves in Grampians soil.
You might be wondering: Does it matter if weeds proliferate? The answer is yes. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’ve fallen in love with the Grampians. Part of what makes this place so special is its flora. Stubborn weeds (think Boneseed, which many community groups now organise working bees to eradicate in the You Yangs, in south central Victoria) outcompete native flora, which changes the landscape forever.
“This is also why we encourage people to give these areas time,” explains Tracey. “It gives the native vegetation a chance to establish itself before weeds are introduced.”
Do the right thing Find the old track, or find someone who knows where the old track used to go.
Don’t walk up gullies (a small valley or ravine).
Why? “When a landscape burns, because there’s no foliage, it becomes really easy to see the cliffs from far away,” says Tracey. “It’s tempting for climbers to make a bee-line for the cliff, and the path of least resistance is usually up a gully, which is a bad idea because it’s prone to erosion.”
“It can be tempting to take shortcuts when the track winds around,” she adds. “But often the track goes the way it does for a reason.”
Do the right thing Stick to established tracks. Don’t take shortcuts.
Keep your numbers low.
Why? Limiting the amount of people you go into a crag with reduces foot-traffic – and spread of weeds. Sometimes, tracks are still composed of loose soil and can’t handle an influx of people. Also, sometimes the base of crags can’t handle large groups and lots of people throwing packs on the ground, which can disrupt delicate plants trying to grow.
Do the right thing Don’t go into recovering climbing areas with huge groups.
Popular climbing areas
Summerday Valley – CLOSED
Hollow Mountain – CLOSED
Taipan Wall – OPEN
Bundaleer – OPEN
Mt Rosea – OPEN
Mt Difficult – CLOSED
Asses Ears – OPEN, but particularly delicate
Victoria Range – OPEN, but particularly delicate
Black Ians – OPEN
Black Range – CLOSED
Popular bouldering areas
Trackside – OPEN
Andersens – CLOSED
Kindergarten – CLOSED
Hollow Mountain Cave – CLOSED
Tracey Skinner is employed by CliffCare Victoria as Access and Environment Officer. Her role involves working with Parks Victoria, shire councils and other land managers to negiotiate access to climbing areas. She has held the position for eight years.
Photo by Simon Mentz