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 !
In 1966 McLean with Dave Mills repeated Lindsay’s route, giving it the name Action (14), while the best route at Bakers Creek was Normacide (11) by Mills.
1967 produced only two new ones at Bakers Creek. Hardicide (14) by Thomas and the tricky Speleocide (12) by B.Douglas.
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)
Although not technically a climbing route, the abseiling/rappelling route of Wollomombi Falls deserves it's own description. It can be used to access any of the routes in the Gorge. Follow the walking track across Wollomombi Creek to the lookout overlooking the top of the falls, on the east side. Walk about 50m back to the start of the metal railing and scramble left down a small ridge to the main pool at the top of the falls. Depending on the water level you can make a very exposed jump across the outlet of the pool as it drains over the falls or swim. Keep rock hopping/scrambling for another 30-50m towards the ridge, staying high. During high water levels, this may entail getting wet. Once you are on a ridge that has bit of vegetation on it, head down for approximately 20m to the chains.
20m. The first rap is quite short to reduce rope drag and ends on a decent ledge.
45m to chains at a semi-hanging belay
20m to a semi-hanging belay
50m over a large overhang to low angled terrain.
Either scramble down from here or make another rappel (approx. 30m) from one of several anchors, to the creek bed.
Right up the main falls.Only climbable when the falls are completely dry. This generally only during extended drought.
Note: The line on the topo is based on a 20 year old memory and could be quite wrong. Whoever climbs it next should update the topo.
Start: Technically about 17 but some sparse protection on the crux pitch(needs RP’s). Take a full rack. Scramble up onto the large terrace directly under the waterfall. Twin cracks in a corner lead up onto the large pillar.
25m. Up the twin crack corner on your right, to a large ledge with a large block.
40m. From the right-hand side of the ledge climb up the channel using cracks on either side, then veer left up to a good ledge.
25m. (crux) Up the steep open corner to a small (half metre) roof. From here step delicately back down then to the left, then easily up to low angled crack corner and belay.(#6 Hex in place)
50m. Continue straight up the crack/corner, carefully through two loose sections, then excellent rock to sentry box.
10m. From the belay step left then easily to top of main falls. (A long scramble, following the water course leads up to a large pool. From the pool move left and up through scrub to the gorge top.)
FA: Al Stephens, Ben Christian, 1993
Again, this route can only be climbed when the falls are completely dry which is once in a blue moon. The second climb to be completed on the Wollomombi Falls face. Can only be done in times of drought.
Note: The line on the topo is based on a 20 year old memory and could be quite wrong. Whoever climbs it next should update the topo.
Start: The first roped pitch starts left beside the twin cracks of After The Rain.
40m. Scramble (solo ) up to the ledge to the start of A.T.R.
40m.Up the crack left of the twin crack corner, to where the line steepens and splits. Take the left crack for 3m. then step left to a good belay ledge.
40m. Continue up crack to a large diagonal ledge and belay next to small detached block.
30m. Traverse left 3m. over to another crack line and continue up this to where very poor rock forces you to traverse right(about level with the big roof on your left) 10m. to join A.T.R. Up 4m. to belay at a stance where the crack branches.
45m. Take the left-hand crack (A.T.R. is the right-hand crack) to belay at the top of the waterfall face. Scramble out left and along gorge rim to get back to the carpark
FA: Al Stephens, Gordon Low, Tim Hill, 1994
Only experienced bushwalkers or rock climbers should attempt this trip. Helmets recommended. The party will need some large Hexes or Friends, and approx. 10 long slings with carabineers to sling bushes, the only protection after the start crack. Start: The junction of the two rivers. Move up the ridge through bushes and rotten hand holds till you are confronted with a steep wall, split by a chimney. The chimney has been done but it is easier to move about 40m left till you come to a crack in a corner. This corner is the only place where you need Hexes or Cams. Climb the groove to the crest of the ridge. Continue up and along the ridge using slings and carabineers as running belays. A step in the ridge (a bridge) is the first major obstacle. Running belays are difficult to find here so don’t fall off. Further along the ridge there are two large rock towers. Negotiate these on the right-hand side. Eventually you will come to a large rainforest saddle, full of vines and creepers. The best route out of the saddle is via the extreme left-hand side. The first thirty metres is loose and dangerous- take care. Swing up through bushes and loose handholds, gradually moving across to the right. At this point the drop-off into the Chandler (on the right) is frightening. A few short walls, a little more scrambling and you will be back on the gorge rim. Head up onto the walking track and back to the car.
FA: John (Action) Lindsay and party, 1961
You've come this far, you may as well do the Tooth!
Roughly half way along the ridge, instead of walking around, climb up some chossy rock on hangers to the best view in the gorge standing on a platform about a foot across with sheer drops into both gorges. Rap of the chains and then keep slogging up the hill.
FA: Paul Bayne
Start: An appropriately named climb opposite the falls. A death route that has probably never had a second ascent. Want to make a name for yourself ? Start in the overhung corner/crack that goes up the slab.
23m. Up the crack and belay above and to the right of a small overhang.
36m. Move up again and continue past the ledge to the third tree (?) and belay.
43m. Up the crack 2m. to the left. Up over overhang, and continue for 16m. in the corner (crux). Belay in corner on rotten rock.
30m. Move up the face for 7m. on loose rock and then traverse right on to the buttress, continue up.
30m. Continue up. Belay on the tree on the other side of the ridge.
Continue up the Wollomombi-Chandler Ridge.
FA: N.Hughes, N.Beynon, 1971
Start: There are slabs opposite the Wollomombi Falls. There is a chimney left around from the slabs. 16m. Start in the chimney, straight up for 13m., then traverse left for 3m. Walk round to the bottom.
FA: N.Beynon, J.Street, 1969