Britten Crags is the long tracyhte cliffline high up on the eastern side of Heathcote Valley, just below the crest of the major spur running down from Mt Pleasant. At its southern end the cliffline merges into Cattlestop Crag, with an arbitrary division between the two at the small wall previously known as Dwarf Wall and listed under Britten Crags, but now known as Little Eiger Wall and listed under Cattlestop, as this is the direction by which it is usually approached.
The crags are situated in the Christchurch City Council's John Britten Reserve, named after the motorcycle entrepreneur who died at an early age, and the climbing area takes its name from the reserve.
The crags comprise about 260 short climbs (up to about 25 metres) which are mostly bolted as sport climbs. Generally these are equipped with 10 mm stainless steel bolts and a double-bolt anchor station. Most anchor stations have paired Fixe ring hangers. The bolting is usually to a sport climbing standard with relatively closely-spaced bolts, but be aware that there are also climbs that rely on a few pieces of trad gear, as well as some pure trad climbs. With its accessibility and the number of climbs, this is the best sport climbing site in the Christchurch area, though Cattlestop is equally popular.
Being horizontally flow-banded trachyte of the Lyttelton volcano, the rock quality is not of the highest quality. Holds can be brittle and may break without warning, and the rock is often friable and may crumble under your feet. WIth the popularity of the climbs most crumbly and loose material has been removed, but take care.
Various local climbers visited the area from the mid 70s onward, and a few routes, both bolted and trad, were established. During the 90s, when sport climbing areas were being actively sought out around Christchurch, the crag and surrounding area were largely closed by the landowner of the time.
Disregarding this, a few local climbers who shall remain nameless ventured on to the crags from 1998 onward, surreptitiously establishing a number of sport climbs. Generally these early climbs can be distinguised by the 12 mm galvanised bolts that were often used at that time.
In 1999 climbers became aware that the City Council had a proposal to buy the area as part of a new reserve. This provoked some restlessness among route developers, who were reluctant to wait for the documents to be signed, and by the end of the year a frenzy of route development was taking place, with scores of new routes being added. By the end of 2000 the tally was around 160 climbs, and the gaps were filled in during the following two years, after which the pace of development slowed to a crawl.
During the 2010-2011 eqarthquake sequence in Canterbury some parts of the cliff collapsed. In particular these were most of The Roofs area, Shit Buttress (no surprise with that one), and smaller sections on Winter Wall and The Zoo. Overall the crag has survived remarkably well, considering its close proximity to the 22 February epicentre. Over 90% of the climbs appear to be unaffected.
The rockfalls at both The Roofs and Shit Buttress have left a large deposit of fallen rocks covering the track, so please take particular care when crossing these, though they are stabilising with time and traffic, as well as from work by some local climbers.
Take more care than usual when on routes, and if you do happen to find a loose rock, find a safe direction to drop it and take all the normal precautions that you would when climbing at a newly developed crag. When this crag went through its major development phase in 1999- 2000, many rocks were safely dropped when routes were cleaned, without them rolling down the hill to the fence.
If you find any damaged climbs that haven't been identified already, list them here.