Friday, January 11, 2008

Suburban cragging: Mt Alexandra.

In this first in an occasional series on suburban cragging around Sydney, ROD SMITH looks at a crag that is technically not even suburban…

If you’re tired of dodging the Saturday morning sport-mums convoy of people-movers and Toorak tractors (flash 4WDs), on your stop-light-ridden way to Barrenjoey or Narrabeen Slabs, then the Southern Highlands crag of Mt Alexandra is for you.

Instead of schlepping at a snail’s pace up the Wakehurst Parkway, or over Spit Bridge, you could be barrelling at 110 km/h down the M5, headed for the Southern Highlands town of Mittagong.

It’s here, just a little over 70 minutes’ drive from Sydney that you’ll find Mt Alexandra. Despite being about 100km from the CBD, or twice the distance as Barrenjoey, Narrabeen or Berowra, the travelling time to Mt Alex is as fast and often faster.

A largish north-facing crag, it is mostly comprised of sport climbs, with a few mixed and trad lines thrown in. lists more than 80 climbs while Peter Monks’ Sun, Surf and Sandstone online guide ( has descriptions for more than 70 routes.

The rock is sandstone, generally slabby in nature, with excellent friction. It’s a great crag to practice your footwork on as many of the moderate-grade climbs require some degree of smearing.

The grades range from 8 to 27 but it should be noted that some routes in the easiest grades are solo-only, non-protectable outings, which means death-route status for most of us.

Regardless of this, there are plenty of moderate grades and shiny bolts to satisfy the most demanding of climbers for quite a few visits.

Top of the tick list in the easy grades would be the traditional warm-up routes B (15), Open to Public Scrutiny (14) and In the Inn of the Sixth Happiness (13). Each of these climbs is located in the Central Area.

The nearby adjacent Vox Populi area has some good moderate-grade sport climbs including Dorothy the Dinosaur (17) Red Room (18), Vox Populi (18) and Mousetrap (19).

On a recent visited it was noted that this popular wall has also sprouted three more bolted routes, according to Hugh Town (19), Vox Fox (16) and Silver Fox (20).

But the pick of this wall would have to be Dorothy the Dinosaur followed by the omninous-looking roofed Vox Populi ,which is really a jug-fest with the crux lower down and needing wires to protect it.

The attractive curving corner crack Michael in Shorts (16) also provides some sweaty good times, but would appear to be slightly undergraded, due to the hard move needed to gain the climb's sole bolt - after you’ve negotiated the crux.

For those climbers interested in some serious cranking, it should be noted that one of the developers of this crag has been Garth Miller. His routes include Ultine Demence (27) and The Big Day Out (24). But he also contributed the aforementioned Open to Public Scrutiny.

Other important features of the crag include its close proximity to two pubs and a bakery that serves good coffee. In case of rain it’s also close to the bookshops of Bowral.

Of course if you got to Bowral you’ll have plenty of Toorak tractors to avoid.