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Castle Rock

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The 22 February 2011 Christchurch earthquake caused major damage to this crag. There has been major rockfall and many loose blocks remain. Please take appropriate care.
A prominent volcanic feature with classic, airy routes. Solid rock, good climbs in most grades and easy access made Castle Rock Christchurch’s most popular crag until the 2011 earthquake.
You can find somewhere sheltered to climb on most days.Undoubtedly the crag with the longest tradition of climbing in Canterbury, Castle Rock is handily located just above the Heathcote valley. It offers a good mix of traditionally protected routes up to about grade 24, and even a few bolt-protected harder routes.


This is definitely the longest-used rockclimbing area in the Canterbury region. Many of the routes were aided, and the area was regarded as just a belaying training area. Unfortunately, there was little recorded history prior to Don Hutton's 1968 guide, though there is a mention of rock falls in 1967 (hence the name Cannonball Gully for the area left of the Cave). So all the names of existing climbs originated from the 1968 guidebook editors, and no first ascentionists are credited. One preserved early name, from 1940, is `Hamilton's Crack' for Hawk/Eagle Cleft. After the publishing of the first guide, there was little development. Then in 1971 Rob Rainsbury added *Gibbet 18. Allegedly he thought it was the normal finish to ***Gargoyle 16 and became committed. Also that year, Bill Denz led the very necky **Alhambra 18 with minimal pro. 1972 saw Colin Dodge complete **Court Jester 20, the first climb at this grade at Castle Rock. Rob Rainsbury added the excellent **Rawhide 18. Murray Judge (the Southern Raider) pulled off the plum of ***Judgement 20. In 1974 John Barnett did **Executioner 19.
Little was added then until 1978. As some of his earliest efforts in NZ, John Allen added *Bill's Hat 21, **Marc Bolan Memorial Arete 19 and Corkscrew 19. 1979 saw an increase in activity and visitors such as Tobin Sorenson, who did the testing *Ex Cathedra 24 and soloed *Breakfast of Champions 21. John Allen came out with Passion Play 23. Rick McGregor produced the bold classic **Peregrinus 22 and Dave Fearnley added Sid Vicious Arete 21, one of his earliest new routes.
1980 saw John Allen become the Uncompromising Vulture 22, following John Howard's good efforts in placing all the protection. Allen and his team then turned their attention to the steeply overhanging Barbican Wall. *Tales of Machismo 24 and *Wall of Shame 23 resulted. The last route was aptly named as it represented the first `real' use of a bolt at Castle Rock. Allen paid `fifty cents a day' for a student labourer to drill the hole, which took 2 days with Mike Law's massive sandstone bit. 1981 saw Brian Fish do the other obvious lines on this wall, the pumpy **Poetry in Motion 25 and Jeni's Gang 24. Visitor Charlie Creese added Roof of the World 24, and Dave Fearnley did the last of the cracks on the Keep, *The SS 24.
Following the 2010-11 earthquakes, many of the climbs listed no longer exist, or are severely altered.
A number of quality routes have been added on the earthquake scars, generally protected with bolts.

30 min
POINT (172.698429 -43.588213)
BX24 775 739

Access by car is along the summit road is no longer possible with the closure of the Summit Road. It takes about 25 minutes to walk from the Rapaki Saddle. Look for the metal stile. There are lockup staples for bikes along the ridge crest, out of sight of the road. From the stile, a track leads down around the bottom of the cliff on the western side. The usual gearing-up/lunch spot is in The Cave at the bottom end of the crag.
On foot, Castle Rock can be reached from the head of the Horotane Valley, or from the tunnel portal/Bridal Path area in the Heathcote Valley. The Lyttelton bus stops near the tunnel. Rumours of alpine types walking up from the Bridal Path wearing plastics and crampons are entirely true.

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Information by Lindsay Main & previously hosted online by John Davis.
Photo by Grant Piper