Climbing out of the Grose Valley in the Blue Mountains (NSW)

Highlights:

  • A walk-in, climb-out traverse of the Grose Valley in the Blue Mountains National Park, NSW
  • Combines 15km of trail/foot-pad walking, 1km of bush-bashing (up a 30-degree incline) and a 270m climb out via Bunny Bucket Buttress (Grade 18 multi-pitch sport climb)
  • Overnight bivvy at the base of a cliff, next to a magical pool
  • Microadventure for experienced climbers only

As a Sydney-sider I live a long way from any real mountains (you know, the snow-capped type). So, maybe the idea of linking up the north and south sides of the Grose Valley via a 270m climb was just a way of emulating some of the alpine-style adventures I’d read about.

Or maybe it’s just that I wanted a way to combine my two loves: rock climbing and overnight bushwalking. Either way, this is an “alpinism-lite” adventure that I managed to convince my ever-ready (if initially dubious) climbing buddy Garry to complete with me.

After dropping a car off at Pierces Pass and catching a pre-booked cab back to Govetts Leap (about $80), it was time to get stuck in. The steep descent from Govetts Leap to the base of Bridal Veil Falls is rightly one of the Blue Mountains most popular bushwalks.

Like so many overnight hikers, we then continued from Junction Rock to Blue Gum Forest. When we reached Acacia Flat campground, however, we kept on walking towards the imposing cliffs that define the valley’s northern side. Those cliffs were our ticket out.

When we reached a point almost directly south of the distinctive Mirrorball pinnacle, we crossed the Grose River and started uphill…

To say months of planning went into this would be an understatement. I put together a spreadsheet of all our gear to make sure we travelled light. Garry and I did countless torture sessions at our local climbing gym, climbing laps with a 5kg weight vest.

Bizarrely, the thing that had me most worried wasn’t the climb itself. It was the bush-bash to get to the base of the cliff: What sort of terrain would we be crossing? How thick was the scrub?

In the end, it was about as good as I could have hoped for. After two of the sweatiest hours of my life, we reached the cliff. My hopes for a flattish camp site were somewhat dashed: we found two narrow patches of dirt on a slight angle, snug up against the cliff. Good enough for a separate bivvy each, but only just.

As a precaution, we had lugged enough water up to last the night and the next day. But just west of our campsite, there was a serene pool, fed by a semi-permanent waterfall/soak. We cooled off there as the sun set behind orange sandstone cliffs.

The next day, we woke early and started up Bunny Bucket Buttress. The plan was simple: the leader would carry the small pack and climbing rack, while the second would follow with the larger pack and hiking gear. The training paid off. Before we knew it, we were up the slabby bottom section and sat below the stunning, 70m ironstone headwall.

The headwall is protected by a delicate traverse beneath an imposing roof. And then you are onto the best sections of one of Blue Mountains’ classic climbs: below you are clear space and the entire valley. Above you is beautiful, textured rock, shining with afternoon sun.

The feeling of satisfaction I had at the top of the headwall matched the views: sublime. 40m of easy climbing later, we were at the top. There was still more walking to do: a few kilometres along a well-defined footpad and the Bells Line of Road. But our alpine-lite adventure was in the bag and we could afford to think about a cold glass of Bilpin apple cider.

Essential gear required

  • Ultra-Lightweight overnight hiking gear (you’ll need to carry it out on the climb the next day)
  • Multi-pitch sport climbing rack, including a 60m rope
  • Tarp for overnight bivvy (optional)
  • Head torches
  • First aid kit
  • Water filter
  • Blue Mountains Climbing guidebook (again, only take a photo copy)
  • An experienced multi-pitch climbing partner (if you’re not one yourself)
  • Katoomba and Mt Wilson 1:25,000 Topo Maps and compass (photo copy the parts you need)

How to get there

Park your car at Pierces Pass Walls Lookout carpark and then catch a cab or do a car shuffle to Govetts Leap.

Activities

This one’s just about got it all:

  • Bushwalking
  • Climbing
  • Wild Swimming
  • Abseiling (if you get it wrong and need to bail)
  • Suffering (optional)

Skill Level

Expert

(Seriously: if you do this wrong, you can die. You should really climb Bunny Bucket first to know that you can do it. You’ll also want to be fit enough to free climb 270m with climbing and camping gear!)

Distance covered / Elevation Gain

16 km (including 1km up a 30deg incline) / approx. 650m gain, including 270m of free climbing.