Last weekend I travelled to the Mecca of Australian rock climbing, Mt Arapiles, in Victoria.
Arapiles is about 1 hr 15 mins drive west of the Grampians National Park (the location that we did our very first blog post about).
As you leave the Grampians proper you enter a stretch of incredibly flat plains. After some time Arapiles emerges on the horizon. A lone mount on the landscape. Arapiles is only some 300m high, but stands out from a long way off due to its isolation and the flat surrounds.
According to some geological reports it was part of a sea cliff line some 20 million years ago which has helped to create the now world famous rock climbing.
Rock climbing began in this region more than 50 years ago and now there are between 2000 and 3000 routes recorded. The nice thing I found about Arapiles is that to do a classic route doesn’t require you to be able to climb grade 23+. There is fantastic climbing here for all levels.
On the way through the Grampians I stopped for a night to break the driving at Halls Gap. After a great breakfast at the appropriately named Basecamp Cafe I set off for a short walk to Sundial Peak in the Grampians – one of several short and easily accessible routes on the edge of the park. After a 2km walk through good bush track you reach an expansive view back over Halls Gap and the surrounding basin.
From the Grampians it is a further 1hr 15mins drive on to Arapiles. As you exit the National Park, the land flattens and opens into plains and farm land before Arapailes appears in the distance, a lone mountain figure.
After a short stop in Natimuk to meet my guide Andrew and collect supplies it was off to the mountain.
The weekend of climbing was split into two components: some more simple top roping on Saturday to refamiliarise with outdoor climbing, building up to a multi-pitch on Sunday.
It had been some 2.5 years since my last outdoor climbing trip, Sweet Dreams in the Blue Mountains with Nigel. However, I got back into the climbing gym after Christmas as one of many New Years resolutions for the year and felt in better condition for climbing than I ever have previously helped by participating in work place health and fitness challenge over the last six months.
On Saturday I tackled Working Class Hero (10), Holdup Line (Direct Finish) (15) and Ckinell (14). These routes are located on Bushrangers Bluff described as a popular beginners haven in the local guide book. It was reportedly the hangout of a notorious bushranger named Captain Melville in the late 1850s. On this afternoon the bluff provided welcome shaded relief from the baking 35 degree summer sun and a perfect reintroduction to the exhilaration of feeling the explosure of the outdoors.
The afternoon was completed with a walk to the top of the buttress and an abseil refresher in preparation for Sunday’s multi-pitch. The views from the top over the surrounding plains was stunning and a sense of complete peace descended with nothing but the sound of the breeze and birds in your ears.
After a great steak in nearby Horsham at the Bull and Mouth Hotel and a good nights rest I returned on Sunday feeling pumped for the climb. I remember when Nige and I did Sweetdreams being so uncomfortable with the experience and nervous as anything about the multi-pitch. Some combination of the increased fitness, climbing ability and familiarity with the equipment made all the difference.
Sunday began with the ascent of Eskimo Nell (10), a 3-5 pitch climb depending on your approach. We did it in effectively 3.5 pitches with the half being a short transition midway through a cave. The climbing was relatively straightforward aside from a short slab section at the beginning and all the belay points were on wide and sheltered ledges which made the whole experience much more comfortable in terms of managing the exposure. The climbing was great fun with good holds and a mixture of moves and terrain including a cool section called The Jetty requiring you to go out along a ledge and step off the edge over a void onto the steep wall of the next section. After 110m of fanatastic climbing you are deposited on the top and met with stunning views all around of the adjacent walls and beyond. The route is rated three out of three stars and a classic example of the epic routes available at Arapiles for more entry level climbers. The other exciting feature of this climb was the use of trad gear which was great experience and meant I needed to collect the equipment on the way up.
After a short break for lunch, we completed the afternoon by nailing Maximus (17) on the nearby Plaque Area section. This features a fabulous wall that was like an outdoor gym in perfect afternoon shade. The pleasure and confidence in tackling a single pitch climb after the earlier challenge was the perfect way to end the day and left me craving more.
I finished the day with a short drive to the summit of Arapiles and a swim in the Venus Pools at Halls Gap on the drive back to Melbourne.
Arapiles has been on the world climbing map since the 1960s and developed into one of the worlds premier destinations for rock climbers. From this visit it is easy to see why. The climbing is fantastic with something to offer all levels, the climate and scenery beautiful and the local town has a lovely climbing centric atmosphere.
For me the weekend was also another great example of the power of everyday adventuring. I was in Melbourne for work anyway and in the ordinary course would have joined the weekday commuters and come in on Monday. Instead I got two of the most exhilarating and inspiring days somewhere that I wouldn’t have thought possible in a weekend trip from Sydney. My own gift to myself to mark my recent 36th birthday and well worth it! Looking forward to more climbing ahead.