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Few cities in the world are defined by its geology more than Sydney. The yellow sandstone bedrock defines the city's topography, vegetation, architecture, history, and its identity. Sprawling suburbs are snuggled around a series of picturesque harbours; the bricks and mortar jostling for position with scraggly bush and rocky headlands. The gullies and river valleys that feed into the harbours are a patchwork of bush and suburbia, dotted with rocky outcrops poking up through the green canopies. To the west, north and south the city is surrounded by sandstone escarpments, considered an inpenetrable barrier to the first European settlers, but now protected in National Parks. To the east the city abruptly ends in grey cliffs looking out to the endless sea.

For the rock climber, the seemingly endless collection of micro crags (165 at last count) offer a delightful world to explore. The cliffs are mostly short unassuming affairs, lending themselves to convenient single-pitch sport and trad climbing, top-roping and world-class bouldering. The crags are best enjoyed on some sunny day with a few mates, a light rack and rope or maybe a pad or two, and an easy-going attitude. If the sun is too hot, the flies too annoying or gravity too heavy, you'll find cafes, bakeries, icecreams, beaches and pubs not too far away.


Paul Thomson on Early Bird, The Woolwash. Photo by Edwin Emmerick


Scott Butler on Absolute Bosch, Bow Wall. Photo Mikl Collection

The sea cliffs offer a slightly more serious adventure, in dramatic locations high above the seething seas. Take care, watch your back, don't trust the fixed protection, and plan a retreat should things go brown. Recent rebolting of some of the classics have seen a resurgence in popularity on the infamous sea cliffs.

Although this guide does attempt to distinguish between 'sport' and 'trad' climbs (primarily for those seeking the convenience of sport routes) the distinction is not as precise as other climbing areas. The sandstone rarely forms well-protected trad lines (those that exist are treasured) so many so-called 'trad climbs' utilise some fixed protection, either to fill in the blank spots or for top belays. The use of fixed protection here pre-dates the global sport climbing wave, but clip-n-go style has been embraced here and the more recently developed crags (and rejuvenated old ones) tend to follow this ethic. Trad is not dead however and trad skills will extend climbing opportunities for those with patience to master the long lost art.


Jason Lammers on Imogen, The Cathedral. Photo by David O'Donnell

Most of the crags in this guide are situated in natural bushland, and the smells, sounds, textures and sights of the Sydney bush make the climbing experience a real joy. Sometimes it's hard to believe you're still in a city of 5 million people. Proximity to the urban world is no excuse for trashing the place however, so please take home your rubbish, bury your shit, avoid creating new tracks or causing erosion, and take care not to disturb the many aboriginal heritage sites such as middens, rock carvings and bora grounds that you will find about the place. When near housing or walking tracks, keep the noise down to avoid creating access problems, and similarly don't block driveways or fill up streets with your cars. Be mindful that climbers' impacts have resulted in access restrictions in some National Parks and council lands.

Despite the ease of access, the Sydney cliffs are in no way climbed out, and while the nearby major climbing areas attract the crowds, devotees are still quietly poking their way around the local bush, putting up new routes, discovering new crags, and rejuvenating old ones. I hope this guide introduces you to the joys of the Sydney crags.

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