Wollomombi Falls Mostly Trad climbing7 routes in crag
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One of the most spectacular gorge systems in Australia. Long, serious, chossy adventure climbing in a remote setting.
Wollomombi falls was once believed to be the tallest waterfall in Australia. However, geographical revisions place them at second or third tallest, depending on the source. Regardless, the gorge is very spectacular with many sheer faces. Unfortunately, the quality of the metamorphosed mudstone deteriorates very quickly as you move away from the stream.
Activities around the gorge including hiking trails or canyoning trips down Wollomombi or Chandler Falls and continuing downstream thorugh a steep sieded canyon known as the 'Inaccessible Gulf'. The valley widens about 4km downstream of the falls. The upper reaches of the gorge should be avoided when water levels are high.
The falls are near the tiny village of Wollomombi, about 40km. east of Armidale off the Grafton/Dorrigo Road (Waterfall Way). They are well signposted. Park at the car park/picnic area. Getting into the gorge is not easy. You can either abseil down the Wollomombi Falls Rap Route or scramble down into the gorge. The recommended scrambling route into the gorge requires no abseils but it is loose and dangerous. From the car park walk 100m towards the falls where there is a long grassy platform slightly below the rim of the gorge. At the far-left end of the platform is a gully and rib. Stick to the very loose rib. Stay on the rib, making a few detours around minor obstacles, until you pass a huge landslip on your left and finally reach a small saddle. The spur bluffs out beyond the next high point beyond the saddle. From the saddle, move down right, until you arrive at a steep, slippery watercourse. A scrubby steep spur to the right of the watercourse avoids the steep section in the gully. Once below this section continue on down the watercourse until you arrive at another steep section close to the gorge floor. From here move left into bushes and scree, down to the gorge floor. If you get lost you will have to abseil. Walk up the left-hand river past the junction to the base of the falls. If you are doing the Ridge, go straight up between the two rivers from the junction.
Where to stay
There is a National Park campground at the falls.
Rock climbing in the Armidale district is believed to have commenced around 1960 at Dangars Falls. Two climbers, John (Action) Lindsay and Hugh Spencer, at that time, climbed the waterfall face right of the water-course. This is of course the climb known today as Action. At the same time it is believed that they also climbed the orange pinnacle right of Action.
Looking for other great challenges, in 1961 Lindsay and party attempted and completed the first ascent of the Wollomombi-Chandler Ridge. Obviously other members of the Mountaineering Club thought they were a little crazy, as none of these climbs were recorded. No doubt Lindsay and others attempted/completed other climbs but unfortunately no records were kept.
The first recorded climbs were completed in 1964.
Bob Harden and Doug McLean formed a climbing group called the Delta Club, a breakaway group from the University Of New England Mountaineering Club (UNEMC). Starts of climbs were marked with a Delta instead of the usual square. Some of these markings were still visible at Bakers Creek in the early seventies but have since been worn away. Two climbs were put up in 1964 by Harden and McLean. They are Bakercide (6) and Nitrocide(8), both at Bakers Creek. 1965 saw the Delta club leap into action. John Davis and Mike Thomas joined Harden and McLean.
Apart from climbing at Bakers Creek, the group make excursions to Mihi Falls and Dangars Falls. Five new climbs were put up at Bakers Creek. The best being Davicide(13) by Davis, Punjacide(13) by I.Logan and the two aid climbs, ADP(M1) and ryocide(M1), both by Harden. Three climbs were completed at Mihi- the best being the classic Pull Up(15) by Davis. During the same year they made their first visit onto the big, scary wall of Dangars Falls. Harden put up the very run-out Toecap(13), while Davis climbed Goldfinger(16), a climb that hasn’t, at the time of writing this guide, had a second ascent !
The only new route in 1968 was at Dangars, Nightcap (12) by Thomas.
Mills pioneered two new ones at Bakers Creek in 1969. The best being Klettercide (12). Noel Beynon with J.Street had a close look at the rock around Wollomombi Falls. They found and climbed Dono Dedit (8) During this year the Wollomombi-Chandler Ridge became a popular trip. Elaine Cantrill (Elaine’s Gorge-a canyon- is named after her) arrived on the scene, and swinging leads with R.Jones, put up the long Magnificent Obsession (9) on Oaky Falls. The same pair did the first route at Four Mile Creek Falls, Skylite (6).
The only new route in 1970 was Drednought (14) at Dangars Falls by N.Hughes and Beynon. This takes the corner right of Action and left of the Orange Pillar. Today it is quite loose and probably was then.
1971 produced eight climbs. Five at Bakers Creek- the best being Pissed Psychedelic Peanut (15) by A.Suters and Cornelius Corners (15) by Rob Dixon. Hughes and Beynon found the chossiest route in New England at Wollomombi Falls. It goes up a slabby wall onto the Wollomombi-Chandler Ridge, opposite the falls. It is appropriately titled Violet Crumble Bar (13). J.Street with Dick Gallimore did We Are Not Amused(12), the chimney next to the falls at Four Mile Creek Falls, while R.Jones with Gallimore did Nuttinge (14) at the same crag.
1974 saw Phil Prior arrive, and with Jill Kelman put up a direct start to Nightcap, which they named Copperhead (12). Rob Dixon dragged Bob Killip and Brian Birchall to Mihi to do Deception(14). Prior, at Bakers Creek, disappeared into the mank just downstream of Bakers Creek Falls, to produce Frigid Air (6).
In 1975, Al Stephens with Dixon added the first four pitches to We Are Not Amused (12) at Four Mile Creek Falls. At the same location Killip with Rob Stazewski completed The Killip-Stazewski Route On The East Face Of Four Mile (20). At Mihi Dixon, with Stephens, did Bird On A Wire (16). In 1978, a granite cliff,Flaky Buttress, downstream from Dangars, was discovered by Bob Killip. The result was Plain Sailing (14).
Dangars received two new ones in 1980. Stephens with Geoff Francis did the multi-pitch Slippery When Wet (13) during a drought, while on the opposite wall Birchall with Francis did Caprice (17). At Bakers Creek Austin Legler with Greg (Dulux) Pritchard did Basilisk (16). Back at Flaky Buttress (Dangars) Jack Lattanzio, with Ed Sharp, warmed up on Fairy Choss (8), and later that year returned with Mark Colyvan to complete Mystery Achievement (20).
1981 saw Dangars Falls yield Total Control (20) by Bayne and Colyvan, as well as Foolscap (18) by Birchall. Downstream, past Flaky Buttress Stephens and Rob Clark found The Richard Cliff and put up three great climbs, the best being Eavesdropper (19) by Stephens and Airs and Graces (19) by Clark. Stephens with Sharp had a Calculated Thrill (16) at Mihi after he did White Man’s Burden (20) with Clark at Bakers Creek. Near The Richard Cliff Pritchard found The Pritchard Cliff and soloed the only route to date, Pariah (5).
In 1982 Paul Bayne found another crag, Dynomight Buttress, near (before ?) Flaky Buttress. No one has been able to locate it since. At Flaky Buttress Stephens put up the great Bombora (20 M1). Bayne managed to eliminated most of the aid but left the grade the same. On Richard Cliff, the next crag down the gorge, Bayne with Stephens, did the powerful Lackluster Backbuster (23).
In 1985, Stephens made a brief visit to Bakers Ck. to establish Cheesy Gland (20), a variant finish to Cornelius Corners.
At Bakers Ck. in 1986 Stephens with Larry Dixon eliminated all aid on ADP, now 21.
No new routes were put up on or around any of the falls from 1986 until the drought of 1993 when Wollomombi Falls were completely dry! Ben Christian and Stephens did After the Rain (18). The drought continued in 1994 and once again Wollomombi Falls dried up. This time Gordon Low and Stephens with Tim Hill completed a line parallel to After the Rain, called God’s Of Thunder (18).
Most of this guide and the history was documented in 'Waterfalls-A Rock climbers guide to the waterfalls of New England' by Al Stephens (1996)
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