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Ben Cairn, Healesville
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Crag Summary (PDF) Quick Stats
Climbs *** ** * Hardest Longest Rock Access
44 0 1 7 26 30m Granite 5 Min

Owen leading "Pancake Flake" 30m grade 18Ben Cairn is a sometimes mossy granite outcrop situated about an hour and a half east of Melbourne, not far from Healesville. It's a small, but very picturesque mountain residing in a heavily forested region not suitable for climbing during winter. Described by Mike Law as "possibly the worst cliff in the world, with some of the best climbs", you'll either love it or hate it. Either way, it's only five minutes walk in from the road, and contains at least half a dozen routes worth a look (and quite a few in need of a clean) protected by a mixture of bolts and trad gear. If you're climbing well at grade 26, you could probably knock off all the routes in single day trip. The tourist guard railing makes for fast belay or top rope set ups. Just about every route has some friction slabbing involved, so if this is not your bag, I'd suggest you reconsider. The rock itself is very fine grained, making the slab moves sometimes slippery. However, I'd rate this crag as one of the best in east Victoria. Well worth the trip for Melbournites.

Above Right: Owen leading "Pancake Flake" 30m grade 18.

To gain access take the Maroondah Highway out of Melbourne to the pleasant little berg of Healesville. (See: Approach Map). On the other side of town, past the bridge, turn right down Don road for 9.8km to a junction, and after a further 8km (road will have become dirt) you'll notice a sign stating "Ben Cairn 1040m". Head 5 minutes up the foot track to gain the crag. From the lookout, plunge into the bush where the guard railing begins on your left (as you peer down), following a fairly well defined climbers path to the base.

Owen leading Pancake Flake, 30m grade 18.Owen leading "Pancake Flake" 30m grade 18
Above: Owen leading Pancake Flake, 30m grade 18. Check out the video clip Pancake Flake (2 Meg, 32 seconds). Beginners note: climbing with the rope between your legs on a traverse can result in a potential upside down fall.

Circling around, you'll pretty quickly come to the 30m grade 18 trad line "Pancake Flake" (pictured above), which shares the first bolt of "Digit Dancer" at grade 20, the later of which continues on past another two bolts on rounded smooth holds. Both routes are recommended climbing, though beware the small wires or micro cams required to protect the Pancake Flake itself and save a micro cam for protecting the top out slabbing. The midway tree ledge is a bomber rest.

Owen leading Skating Away, 22m grade 19Owen leading Skating Away, 22m grade 19Owen leading Skating Away, 22m grade 19
Above: Owen leading Skating Away, 22m grade 19. Middle: The crux moves pulling out of the crack onto the slab above. Far Right: A few seconds later, "how far is that bolt!!". See: Images page for the full sequence and check out the video clip Skating Away (2.5 Meg, 41 seconds).

Moving further along the base you'll come to "Skating Away" (pictured above), the 22m grade 19 that begins in a well protected, and easy looking crack system. The crux however, is hauling out of the crack onto the slab above and braving the 4m run out to the fat bolt above. Note the bolt is too fat for a plate and will require threading with a wire. Popping off while clipping this bolt will put you very near a deck out, so make very sure you sink a couple of bomber cams into that crack before leaving it's safety. The friction slab moves above the bolt aren't a give away either, with zero further pro until to summit. A bold lead!

Michael onsighting "Flapjack", 12m grade 19.A few feet left again and you'll come to the area's prize attraction "Fiction" 20m grade 26 with it's two or three bolts, though easily top roped. It's hard as all hell, with mantles off of nothing holds and all sorts of difficulties, which begin very soon after the first bolt. 

For something far easier, wander further along until you reach "Flapjack" the 12m grade 19 crack climb, that begins below a fixed piton and summits a few feet away from the far end of the guard railing above. (It's possible to walk straight back down from the pseudo top out ledge, via a steep descent gully). I managed to onsight Flapjack, and consider it the nicest of the 19's on the crag, despite it being quite a struggle. Bring a shit load of micro to #2 camalot sized cams and you can basically sewn the thing up. Save a #1 camalot size for the top out moves. There's a nice slot for this piece above the otherwise flared section of the crack that is comforting to find. The moves are all pretty hard, but broken by at least one, almost no hands, rest stance about mid-way. The right wall of this open book corner looks useless for stemming, but don't discount it entirely.

Above: Michael onsighting "Flapjack", 12m grade 19. Below Left: Owen on "My Brilliant Career" 12m grade 19.

Owen on "My Brilliant Career" 12m grade 19.Once you've fired up "Flapjack", utilise the same top belay for a quick run up "Frankenstein and the Wereturkeys", the 12m grade 19 that begins just left of the arÍte. The crux is the opening moves to the first bolt, meaning you're asking for trouble to lead it, though once you have the moves wired it's not that hard. Above the bolt it's a cruise to the same pseudo top out ledge as for Flapjack. If you peer up and left through the trees a bit, you'll also notice a clean slab hiding amongst the moss. This is "My Brilliant Career", the 12m grade 19, super delicate slab route. The first of two bolts is a fair way off the deck, given the easy but moss covered opening moves (bring a wire brush?). Once established on the clean slab above, do not expect a single decent edge to rest on until the top out. A psychologically draining lead, though fun on top rope if pure smears friction slabbing is your thing.

For a small crag there's quite a number of climbs at Ben Cairn, however, bear in mind that many of them may require cleaning, and a few are totally overgrown with moss. On the other hand, the routes mentioned above and several others were scourged free of vegetation, and more than ample to fill in a very enjoyable day. I definitely recommend Ben Cairn as a day trip destination for Melbournites, or others not too far away. Its fine grained granite is reputed to be slippery, but we managed well enough, and I consider the area one of best of the Eastern districts.

Will's Selection    Push For The Summit
[ Some additional beta curtesy of  Will's Climbing Page. ]

Raspberry Ripple 12m 14
The first route R of the slab descent. A tough start (or stemming off the block behind) gains elegant climbing up a lovely fingertips crack with stonker wires until it fizzles out. The original (grade 10) steps R, but it's much better to do the direct slab finish (4m above gear).

Plum Jam 12m 14
3m R of RR. Steep bouldery start to a ledge, then a lovely-looking granite-style flaring groove for 6m with great jamming down the back of it. Well worth doing, but it's not 12 (!) and it's bloody painful on your feet by the end, as there's absolutely zero faceholds here.

* Pie in the Sky 14m 15
7m R of PJ. The usual steep bouldery start, then a nice steep cramped quasi-mantle onto a small shelf. Finish up another granite-style groove, nice textbook jamming for 5m to a short easy slab.

Climbs At Ben Cairn   Push For The Summit

Name Height Grade Stars
Raspberry Ripple 12 10    
Plum Jam 12 12    
Keep It Clean 14 16    
Protagonist 12 24 1
Pie In The Sky 14 15 1
The Big One 14 22  
Gnipples 18 23  
The Russians Are Coming 20 26  
Fiction 20 26 2
Rent A Doddle 20 26  
Musk, Hashish and Blood 22 21  
Skating Away 22 19 1
Golden Years 16 21  
Platinum Hits 15 22  
Nearly Frantic 16 23  
Savatage 16 24  
Walk Away 12 16  
Glass Slippers 16 21  
Friends In Low Places 20 22  
Jerry's Big Corner 18 14  
Bluffing It 16 20  
Walking On The Edge 16 20  
I Feel A Headache Coming On 16 10  
I Can't Breath Either 22 23  
Pancake Flake 30 19 1
Digit Dancer 28 20  1
No Steel 28 18   
Cracker Barrel 22 12  
Lighten Up 22 10  
Cracker Tube 24 12  
Rubber Things 20 17  
Thunder Birds Are Go 20 17  
Free, White And 21 20 21  
Cordial Kids 12 18  
Environmental Terrorist 20 11  
Lower Cliff Height Grade Stars
The Antagonist 12 20    
Popular Hits 15 24    
Pakenham Upper 15 22    
My Brilliant Career 12 19 1
B.C. Jug 12 17  
Frankenstein And The Wereturkeys 12 19 1
Eastern ArÍte 12 21  
Flapjack 12 19  
The Dragonbone Chair 14 19  


Further Reading:
Eastern Victoria - A rock climbing guide, edited by Michael Hampton, Robin Holmes, Paul Martin & Others, and available from local climbing shops, or the VCC.
Ben Cairn - Over on Will's Climbing Page. 
Ben Cairn - Brief description over on

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