Mount Arapiles (aka. Arapiles) is considered to be one of the finest cliffs in the world. It's difficult to know where to start when throwing compliments at the crag because it really has got it all: immaculate rock, quality routes, easy access, stable weather and fascinatingly pouch-ridden wildlife. The downside is that for those of us that live in the UK it is on the other side of the world, but if you find yourself with a month to spare then look no further...
The rock at Arapiles is a high quality quartzite that is made for climbing, being both solid, featured and varied - there's slabs, walls, overhangs, ridges, faces and even squeeze chimneys (if you want)! There is quality climbing to be had throughout the grades (once you get the hang of the grades that is...) and no shortage of classics, with over 2000 routes it's remarkably difficult to find a bad route out there!
The crag itself is extremely featured, so much so that you can go for days without actually seeing any other climbers anywhere but the campsite/walk-in. Gullys, buttresses and ridges divide the climbing areas and have the added benefit of providing many aspects, so there's always somewhere to suit conditions. More often than not you are looking to chase the shade, so it is definitely worth getting your head around what is in the sun and when. It may sound obvious, but don't forget that you're in the southern hemisphere and the north faces aren't as cold/miserable as they are back at home! One final word of warning is that with the ozone being somewhat thin on the ground it's worth lathering up with a hefty quantity of high factor suncream.
The grading at Arapiles follows the standard Aussie system, which is an open ended system that currently runs from 1 (i.e. easy) to 35 (less easy). Two things were immediately obvious after doing a few routes: firstly, don't expect anything to feel soft for the grade and secondly, be wary of trying to convert the grades back to British grades too literally. The key to understanding Australian grades is to read the description, they are extremely well written and provide all the clues needed to ascertain whether the 23 you are about to get on is indeed a E3 6a (like the conversion tables suggest) or a dangerous and run-out E5 6a. Just because it's got a lower number doesn't mean it's any easier, be warned!
Whilst on the topic of descriptions it is worth giving a special mention to the local guidebook by Simon Mentz and Glenn Tempest, it is almost as perfect as the crag itself. Superb topos, brilliant action shots, entertaining and brutally accurate descriptions, a wealth of historical information, themed tick-lists and much, much more. There's also an abundance of Aussie humour gluing it all together.
Click here to read Steve Bell's review from back in 2008.
Rather than put together an exhaustive tick-list I decided put together a shorter list of stand-out routes and crags that are a must-do/visit whilst in the area:
- Tiptoe Ridge, 5 - A superb mountaineering route, but in a much better climate. Traditionally done naked under the moonlight (apparently...)
- Blockbuster, 11 - A line high up on Bluff Major, that when viewed from the ground looks around E5. Don't worry though, it's Severe - just a pretty out there Severe!
- The Bard, 12 - A superb multi-pitch VS that feels impressively out there for a route 5 minutes walk from the campsite.
- Watchtower Crack, 16 - It's probably a cliche to include this, but this is THE line at Arapiles and one of the finest HVSs I've ever done
- Scorpion, 18 - If you're into your gritstone jamming cracks, but have always been a little disatisfied by their length then step this way - it's 30m for won't forget
- Thunder Crack, 20 - Again, maybe I'm being unimaginative but this route is a great line, on a great crag, with some great climbing - what's not to like?!
- Reaper, 22 - Some climbing styles go out of fashion for all the right reasons and jamming did because, in short, it's hard. Reaper features a jam of every way, shape and form and just to make it that bit more tricky it goes sideways so none of them fit logically either.
- Despatched, 23 - I got on this one when I first arrived, lured by the guidebook description 'one of Arapiles' finest routes''. It is, but alongside that comes a bit more than the E3 I had bargained for - brace yourself for a 7a on trad!
- Trojan, 25 - This innocuous looking line looks comparatively straightforward from a distance, from up close it punches, kicks, bites and bruises - brutal! Another one for the gritstone addict in need of a longer fix.
- Bluff Major - This was my favourite place to climb whilst out at Arapiles. From the campsite it looks miles away, but in reality it's around a 10-15 minutes walk + scramble up the via-ferratta style chains of Alys (3). All the routes are classics and the postilion high up is one of the most beautiful and exposed in the area.
- The Pharos - An intricate area that provides days worth of climbing to explore and investigate. Home to some of the best rock in the area, Birdman of Alcatraz (23) is worth seeking out irrespective of what grade you climb simply to see the orange 'babies bottom' rock formations that are synonymous with the area.
- The Artridae + Organ Pipes - These are the first crags you see upon arriving at Arapiles and therefore the first you are likely to climb on. Considering that convenience and popularity often have negative connotations, these two crags have a lot going for them. The Artridae has some harder classics such as Mike Law's Debutantes and Centipedes (25) and the immaculate corner line of Oretes (23), whereas the Organ Pipes is filled with mid-grade classics such as D-Minor (14), Piccolo (11), and Horn Piece (13).
- The Northern and Far Northern Group - If you ever feel like getting away from it all then these are the places to go. Due to the fractionally longer approach these crags see little traffic, despite the quality of routes being just as good.
When do I go?
Climbing is possible year-round at Arapiles, but the best times to go are in the Spring (Sept - Nov) and Autumn (March - May) when the temperatures are a little more manageable and the rainfall is minimal.
Who flies where?
The easiest place to fly to is Melbourne which is a 3 hour drive away (a short distance by Australian standards). Qantas, Emirates, Malaysian Airlines, Etihad Airways all operate regular flights and availability shouldn't be a problem. As with all flights it's worth booking early to get the best prices, but all the more so with Australia because they're not cheap - £850 in 2014.
Where do I stay?
The Pines Campground is located directly underneath the crag and costs 5 dollars per person, per night. The payment system changed earlier this year and you are now required to pay online, or over the phone, before you arrive at the site. Click here to take you straight to the booking site. If you're after something a little more luxurious then there is a Hotel + B&B in Natimuk 7km away.
What's the scoff like?
The nearest - and best - place to get food is the Natimuk Cafe. This friendly little place is open Friday - Sunday and seems to be the gathering point for members of the local climbing scene. There is a great spread from breakfast, lunch and dinner plus a fanatic array of local beer/wine. If you're after something a little different you can head up the road to Horsham.
Where can I buy gear and food?
It's best to stock up on food in Horsham (30 mins away) where there is both an Aldi + Safeways. Should you have forgotten any camping equipment, or are in requirement of additional gas, the K-Mart should accommodate most of your needs. On the climbing equipment side of things it is worth mentioning that Australia is very expensive, so it's worth bringing everything out with you and more so to avoid the prohibitively high cost of any replacements. That said, the Mountain Shop in Natimuk is well stocked should anything be required.
What else is there apart from the climbing?
The wildlife in Australia is - for want of a better word - hilarious. Many a rest day was spent watching the Kangaroos, Wallabies, Stumpy Tailed Lizards, Noisy Miner Birds, Echidnas, Galahs and Skinks - it's hard to get bored. Spending a moment to read up on the areas wildlife is a great way to pass a day.
For when you get tired of all the dust it's worth heading to the Horsham Swimming Pool for a swim/shower, it's worth every penny...
About the Author:
Rob Greenwood is the Advertising Manager at UKClimbing.com.
He's a passionate climber, hot yoga addict and eater of vegetarian food. He has done more UK trad routes than he's had roast dinners (and that's got nothing to do with the vegetarianism).
Aside from UK trad, he's dabbled with alpine climbing, Scottish winter, Himalayan climbing and more recently Peak limestone sport climbing.
- He keeps an occasional blog about his adventures here: Rob Greenwood Climbing
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