Ebor Gorge Mostly Trad climbing185 routes in crag
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Lots of crack and aretes
Ebor Falls is part of Guy Fawkes River National Park. All the cliffs are in the National park as is the access to these areas and should thus be treated accordingly. Enough said!
Ebor is a township 77km east of Armidale on the Dorrigo road. The climbing area is just before the town on the Armidale side of the Guy Fawkes river on the cliffs around the falls.
The cliffs consist of short vertical basalt columns (10m - 20m) and virtually all the climbs are sustained cracks of varying size between the columns. The original climbing areas are called ‘Breakaways’ and are numbered 1 to 6 with the first being closest to the falls and the sixth being furthest from the falls.
The more recently developed cliffs have broken with tradition and been given more exotic names so that the very short ‘Dead Heroes Buttress’ is between the 4th and 5th Breakaways, ‘Solid Gold Buttress’ is directly below the left-hand end of the 4th Breakaway and ‘Pub Buttress’ and ‘Bondage Buttress’ are on the other side of the gorge.©
Take the Dorrigo road out of Armidale until just before the township of Ebor there is a sign posted road to Ebor falls on your left. Take this road past the graveyard to the first car park (on your right); park here for access to the 1st and 2nd Breakaways, and drive further on to the main car park and picnic area for access to the 3rd - 6th Breakaways, ‘Dead Heroes Buttress’ and ‘Solid Gold Buttress’. To access ‘Pub Buttress’ and ‘Bondage Buttress’ walk across the top of the First Falls and then proceed to the gorge rim on that side of the river.©
Where to stay
Camping at the Ebor Falls rest area is banned but you can camp nearby at the Native Dog camping ground. To get there drive west towards Guyra for 12kms. It is part of Cathedral Rock National Park and camp fees apply. It is only an hour’s drive from Armidale so you can easily stay there. There are also an amazing variety of hotels, bed n’ breakfasts, pubs and caravan parks in Armidale.©
Basically, the climbers of Armidale are a prettylaid back, free thinking group and as long as you don’t go out of your way to put people’s noses out of joint you’ll be amazed at how helpful they can be. The quickest way to piss people off is by ripping off projects. There are a few devoted locals making an effort and putting up quality new climbs. A lot of time, hard work and even money goes into their endeavours (cracks can be projects too) and there is too much unclimbed rock around to justify destroying someone else’s motivation. Any routes marked as such or not in the guide should be left alone. The simple courtesy of asking first may save you from being stripped naked and being staked out for the crows to pick your eyes out.
If putting up new routes is your thing then please feel free. However bolting in National Parks is actually illegal and as Ebor is mostly crack climbs there is rarely a need for bolts.©
Ebor holds a rather special place in the history of New England climbing. Due to its pleasant nature, easy access and short well protected climbs it has been an ideal training area where many Armidale climbers have ‘pushed their grades and tested themselves on such classics as ‘Rooflet’ 19, ‘Backdoor Man’ 19, ‘Sleight of Hand’ 19, and ‘Luce’ 21, and as little as about 6 years ago an ascent of any of these test pieces signified your ‘arrival’ into the upper echelon of New England climbers. On the other hand Ebor has broken a lot of hearts. Almost everyone who has climbed there has had at least one of those days when the climbs cease to be inanimate crack lines and become vicious and spiteful beasts, hell bent on seeing you lying on your back on the ground with blood streaming out of your ears. On one such day (in May 1983) after falling off ‘Anxiety Attack’ a few times Paul Colyvan (Animal) in a fit of rage hitchhiked back to Armidale rather than spend a minute longer at the cliff waiting for everyone else to drive back.
Given the extremes of feeling for the place, which is so much a part of the character of the cliff, it is not surprising that the cliff drifts in and out of fashion from time to time. It always manages to attract a few visitors though, even in recent times, when it has been largely overlooked due to its lack of bolt protected wall climbs which are fashionable at present. Considering this lack of interest in recent years it is remarkable that some of New England’s hardest routes are at Ebor, in fact Ebor has always been well represented in the upper grades at any particular point in time and was often the scene of the first climb at a particular grade right from the time of its discovery as a climbing area.
Anyway, the story begins in April 1974, when local, bobkillip, records the first climb at Ebor on the Third Breakaway, ‘Luce’ 17M1, a thin crack that was aided to a roof which went free. Ironically now that the route is free at 21 the roof is considered about 19 (and some even insist that the roof is the crux). Shortly after that Jill Kelman and Al Stephens also did ‘Haggis Hole’ 13, also on the third breakaway, which was the only other route recorded at Ebor that year, despite Killip’s enthusiasm for the place. In reality Killip would have been climbing near his limit on most climbs at Ebor, since 17 was the highest grade in New England at the time, and no one else was capable of climbing at that standard. So it’s not surprising that development was slow at first, however, the interest was there and it prompted New England climbers to get into crack climbing, a trend which wouldn’t change significantly for nearly 10 years.
In March the following year Killip returned to do ‘Frogwyn D’Harder’ 18 also on the third breakaway, which was New England’s first 18 (although now it is considered 19!). Before that however Al Stephens and Rob Dixon recorded the first route on the first breakaway in February with ‘Supermouse’ M2 and went on to do a few others on the same breakaway as the year progressed, the best of which is probably ‘The Joker’ 17 led by Dixon. Dixon along with mature age novice Brian Birchall and visiting Queenslander Trevor Gynther also added the first route on the second breakaway with ‘Chunder Chimney’ 12. Also of note from 1975 was Stephens’ route ‘Sundown’ M2 which made the first use of bolts on a climb (for aid) in New England. By the end of 1975 there were still only a total of 13 routes recorded at Ebor. In 1976 Richard Curtis arrived in Armidale and he, like Killip, was keen on hard jam cracks and provided a bit of healthy and friendly competition for Killip, who had dominated Armidale’s hard climbing scene for the past few years. Curtis was particularly keen on Ebor where he added many fine new routes, but the other important thing he was to do was to provide encouragement for Brian Birchall who improved dramatically and also acquired a taste for hard jam cracks such as those found at Ebor. The two teamed up for many first ascents at Ebor and elsewhere such as Kaputar and Gara gorge, although the newly discovered Gara granite areas where neglected somewhat in 1976 for the sake of Ebor. During the year Curtis led the superb ‘Narcissus’ 19 on the First Breakaway, ‘Anxiety Attack’ 19 on the Second Breakaway, freed the Killip route ‘Luce’ 20/21 which was the first climb in new England graded above 20 (it has since been upgraded to 21). That was on the 3rd Breakaway where he also added ‘Prime Cut’ 19/20 with an aid rest, which was overlooked in the description. He also did the testy ‘Knuckleduster’ 18 which was among the first climbs on the Fourth Breakaway. Birchall led ‘Fear and Loathing’ 17 and ‘Rattlesnake’ 18 on the Second Breakaway and the classic ‘Jugular’ 19 (later downgraded to 18) which was the first route recorded on the Fifth Breakaway.
Bob Killip’s only significant contribution at Ebor in 1976 was to steal a route on the 4th breakaway which Curtis had cleaned and not had a chance to climb yet. Killip called the route ‘Rooflet’ 18 (it has since been upgraded to 19). This marked the end of the ‘friendly’ competition between Curtis and Killip. Other routes worth mentioning from 1976 are Jill Kelman’s ‘Double Trouble’ 16 on the 4th Breakaway and Phil Prior’s middle grade classic ‘Caballero’ 14 (since upgraded to 16 after some enthusiastic cleaning years later). The new 2 volume green guide ‘Rockclimbs in New England’ by Bob Killip and Brian Birchall came out in the later part of 1976 and featured 40 routes at Ebor up to grade 19, 27 of which had been added in that year and another 10 were added after the deadline for the guide to bring the years total to 37 new routes and one aid elimination. This was Ebor’s finest hour!
In 1977 Birchall left for Melbourne and Curtis continued on his merry way cleaning up many great climbs at Ebor such as ‘Backdoor Man’ 19 and ‘Sleight of Hand’ 19 on the 4th Breakaway and ‘Affection Injection’ 18 and ‘Bash Street’ 20 on the First Breakaway. He also discovered the 6th Breakaway and did the first easier routes there. Joe Friend arrived in Armidale late in the year and did his only significant routes here, the off width ‘Blinky Bill’ 20 on the First Breakaway and the thin crack ‘Inspiration Point’ 18 on the 5th Breakaway. Killip although still around only made sporadic appearances and led nothing of interest at Ebor in 1977. There were 19 new routes in 1977.
In 1978 both Curtis and Killip left Armidale and Birchall returned from Melbourne but it was Joe Friend who was to dominate the scene in 1978 doing many new routes in Gara Gorge but Ebor apparently didn’t interest him and no new routes were recorded here in 1978.
1979 was a year of general slackness. After Friend left, Birchall was in charge of shop and very little in the way of new routes was done (only 4 at Ebor), the most significant being the rattly fist crack ‘Fidget’ 17 on the 4th Breakaway. It was, however, a period of consolidation after the grade pushing and exploration of the previous few years and it allowed everyone the chance to get out and repeat routes.
There was also a new younger crowd of climbers such as John Lattanzio, Greg Pritchard, Ed Sharpe and later in the year Mark Colyvan, who were keen to push their grades and there was no better place than at Ebor under Birchall’s guiding hand.
1980 saw even more new-comers to Armidale in Paul Bayne and Austin Legler (from the USA). Al Stephens, who had done very little in the past few years jumped into the limelight again with Rob Clark who arrived in Armidale the previous year. The other important development in 1980 was the arrival of ‘Friends’ to New England which had immediate applications at Ebor, and later in the year the use of chalk became common.
The first route to be done in 1980 was Paul Bayne’s lead of an old problem which had been previously attempted by Dick Curtis to give ‘Anyone for Tennis’ 20MO. A couple of months later, also on the Fourth Breakaway, Mark Colyvan led the slippery off width ‘Resurrection Shuffle’ 18M0 and a little later still, visitor Tony Dignan led the classic test piece ‘Brown Buffalo’ 20. However it was the Second Breakaway which received the most attention and yielded many new routes in the latter part of the year.
Clark and Stephens did the classic line ‘Amphetamine Annie’ 18. Austin Legler did ‘Anthrax’ 19M0 (& later freed it at 20) and Lattanzio and Colyvan did many new middle and easy grade routes, the best of which was ‘Hitman’ 15. All in all there were 22 new routes for the year bringing the total to 95 at Ebor at the end of 1980. Lattanzio and Legler left Armidale at the end of the year and Pritchard left early in the next.
At the beginning of 1981 the hardest climb in New England was ‘Demon Dropout’ 21 (later upgraded to 22) put up in 1978 and while Ebor’s hardest was ‘Luce’ 20/21 (later upgraded to 21) freed in 1976. So there had been no advancement in grades at Ebor for 4 years and for 2 years in the rest of New England; that was to change in 198Early in the year Greg Pritchard, Ed Sharp and Al Stephens developed Dead Heroes Buttress and did quite a few routes here, the best of which was ‘Daroof’ 17 led by Stephens. In March Colyvan freed his own route ‘Resurrection Shuffle’ at 18 and later in the same day, along with Ed Sharpe, freed ‘Anyone for Tennis’ 20 under controversial circumstances by preplacing 2 pitons that weren’t present on the first ascent, to protect the scary top section. After much criticism Colyvan removed the pegs and led it free again without them. About midway through the year the new guide book by John Lattanzio and Greg Pritchard came out entitled ‘Climbers Guide to the N.E. Tablelands’ It contained 116 routes recorded at Ebor, although 3 were mistakes (and one omission) so there were 114 routes at this point up to grade 20/2Later that year after the new routing frenzy at Dome Wall had died down, interest reverted to Ebor and Colyvan led (and then freed) the classic offhand crack ‘Lethal Dose’ 21 while also on the 6th breakaway Birchall and Clark took turns on ‘Toxic Shock’ 20 which was one of Clark’s last routes before he left Armidale for Hobart. Right at the end of the year Colyvan led Birchall and Killip up ‘Chemical Warfare’ 22 to bring the years total number of new routes up to 25 along with 4 aid eliminations..
Interest continued at Ebor in the early part of 1982, particularly on the first breakaway where Stephens led ‘Bombay Duck’ 20MO (freed a couple of weeks later, at 21, by Lattanzio, who had returned to Armidale to live), and Colyvan led ‘Pretty Vacant’ 20, ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’ 19 and the desperate flared crack ‘Power Play’ 23MO (freed by Colyvan shortly afterwards at 23). The 4th Breakaway yielded ‘Domination Quickstep’ 19 by Lattanzio and ‘Transactional Burnout’ 20 by Birchall. Colyvan left Armidale for Sydney early in 1982. However he returned later in the year to do ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’ 24 on the 6th Breakaway, which was New England’s first 24. Interest in Ebor waned as the year went on and a total of only 9 routes and 3 aid eliminations were recorded during 1982.
1983 marked the beginning of New England climbers interest in bolt protected walls and slabs and consequently they have been pretty lean years at Ebor since then. During 1983 Colyvan returned to do ‘Blue Murder’ 21 on the Second Breakaway while Stephens led ‘Solid Gold’ 20MO, the first route on Solid Gold Buttress (freed later that same day by Colyvan at 20).
Later in the year Solid Gold Buttress was the scene of a rather unfortunate accident and rescue involving Brian Birchall, a 30 ft ground fall, a variety of popped runners and an unfinished new route. 1983 also saw Mark Colyvan lead the classic ‘It’s My Party’ 22 on the Third Breakaway on yet another of his semi-_regular visits, and Paul Bayne leave Armidale. During 1983 there were 8 new routes along with one aid elimination to bring Ebor’s total number of routes at the end of 1983 up to 137. 1984 sees the return of Richard Curtis to live in Armidale and he frees his old route ‘Prime Cut’ at 20 (which no-one knew had any aid in it, it just so happens that the couple of ascents it had also found it necessary to rest on the rope!) and added ‘Little Wonder’ 18 to the First Breakaway. He also took visitor Kevin Lindorff here so he could do the arête ‘Chocolate Barbarian’ 23, which was the first bolt protected face climb here, although poorly bolted, since the bolt spoils another naturally protected route.
1984 yielded a total of 4 new routes and one aid elimination; In 1985 Stephens does the classic bolt protected face route ‘Sucking Faces’ 20 on the first breakaway.
Curtis and Animal (Paul Colyvan) visited the other side of the gorge and did ‘Snatch and Grab’ 18 (led Curtis) and ‘Grab the Snatch’ 21 (led Animal) on Bondage Buttress. They were the only 3 new routes done in 1985.
Larry Dixon from Dorrigo began developing Pub Buttress on the other side of the gorge with ‘Damp Monkeys’ 18 being the first route, and probably the best to date. A total of 5 new routes and 2 aid eliminations for the year.
The only activity in 1987 has been Larry Dixon and Al Stephens continuing development of Pub Buttress and bolting some of the arêtes on the second breakaway such as ‘Modern Electrics’ 17 (by Dixon) and ‘Ilean’ 20 (by Stephens), making use of their new power drill. A total of 13 new routes were done in 1987 to bring the total number of routes recorded at Ebor at the end of 1987 to 162 with grade 3 being the easiest and grade 24 being the hardest.
I am tempted to say that the future at Ebor looks fairly bleak however stranger things have happened than crack climbing returning to favour and if recent developments with power drills and aretes continue, Ebor may yet be dragged into the modern era of face climbing. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Mark Colyvan 1 Jan 1988 1988, the Bi-Centennial year, produced four more crack-lines, the best being ‘Tough Customer’ 21 by Jack Lattanzio and Mark Colyvan. Two bolt-protected routes were also established; Tadpole’s ‘It Pays To Belong’ 20 ,and the very beautiful ‘Dream Of The Devil’ by Mark Colyvan. This climb being the first to have fixed hangers at Ebor.
In December 1989 the summer heat melted something in Al Stephens’ brain causing him, with Mark Colyvan, to bolt up ‘Dead Calm’ 22 at the 1st Breakaway . The Nymboida was very low that summer so Larry Dixon and a group of Rafting Guides visited Ebor and did ‘Old Punks and Young Hippies’ 16 on the 2nd breakaway.
1990 saw only two climbs established, both on the 2nd breakaway and both using bolts; ‘Rage’ 21 by Stephens, Gavin Dean and Anita Gordon, and ‘Steel Magnolias’ 24 , equal to the hardest grade at Ebor so far, by Mark Colyvan, Dean and Stephens.
There were no new routes at Ebor during 1991, 1992, and 1993. Many repeats were done during this time at both the First and Second Breakaways, with occasional visits to the Fourth.
At the Second Breakaway Gordon Low led Al Stephens, Brian Cork and Toby Waters up ‘Sex and Intrigue’ 20.
What’s next? There are many more arêtes to be “shimmied” but they will all be very hard. If you can perfect the technique it will be worth the effort.
Al Stephens 27 Aug 1996
In 98 James Langston with Al Stephens added Funky Monkey.
Either not much happened after this or a lot of history has been lost.
In 2006 the NPWS wanted to ban climbing here but in consultation with the UNEMC future climbing here is secure. In 2007 Liam Jackson and Todd Free added some bolts around the lookout as part of this agreement.©
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