So you want to go to Arapiles aye?
You might have heard a tale from your friends friend of this great big rock in Australia which is not Uluru, or maybe you have know about this place for years, and now you've decided that its time to tick it off your bucket list. If you want to learn a few things about how to prepare, what to expect, and a few suggested climbs to tick off, then read on.
My experience at Arapiles
I had the privilege of visiting Arapiles this year with a large group of mates. The idea was planted in our minds years ago by our rock tutor Keith, during our south island rock tour while studying at Tai Poutini Polytechnic (TPP). He told us how they used to run a TPP trip to Arapiles every year as part of their rock training, we heard stories of towering routes, wandering up superb quality rock.
Ever since then, almost everyone who I studied with has dreamed of going to Arapiles.
It finally happened two years later. We ended up with a group of over 20 kiwis coming over the ditch purely to fondle some rocks!
My first reaction to seeing Arapiles was "Oh. Is that it? It looks like a pile of shit."
from a distance the white streaked orange rock looks like its made of weet bix, but once you get up close with it, you will find that its solid. I spent 7 days there, although unfortunately a few days of climbing were missed due to it being the wettest April in years. Despite the rain, we had a fantastic time, the days on the rock made it worth the trip, and the climbing was superb!
Part 1: When to go
Arapiles can be climbed at any time throughout the year, however summer can be stinking hot, and winter can be surprisingly cold and wet. Australia is not 30 degrees all year round ya know. Many people would say that Autumn (March to May) is the most settled time to climb at Arapiles, experiencing fine days with cooler weather. During my trip (the 10th-17th of April) we unfortunately had about 3 of our 7 days that had some rain, so its not always perfect in autumn. It gets pretty busy during the April school holidays, don't be surprised to have to line up for some of the easy classic routes. Everyone is pretty friendly, so if you find yours self climbing next to another party, just spin a yarn and enjoy the company. Spring is also a nice time to climb Arapiles, the weather is generally fine, however heavy downpours can occur.
Part 2: Getting there
The closest large town that has many stores like Woolworths or Kmart is Horsham, its about a 30minute drive to the Arapiles campsites from here. This town serves quite a large rural area, so it has a great selection of shops where you can find anything you need. There is a train which runs to Horsham from Melbourne which is an option if you don't have a car. Getting from Horsham to Arapiles is a bit harder without a car, but if you hang out outside Woolworths for long enough, your bound see someone heading to Arapiles. Trust me, they're easy to spot. Just look for the people wearing approach shoes, Jesus sandals, or no shoes at all.
Closer to Arapiles, only 10 minutes from away, is the small settlement of Natimuk. In Natimuk you will find a pub, a convenience store which sell the crispiest hot chips ever, and the famous Natimuk climbing store. There is also a solar recharging station and a filtered water tap in the park, where you can go to charge you phone and fill up on water.
Part 3: Where to stay
Most people choose to camp at Arapiles, however if that's not your thing, there is accommodation available at the Natimuk pub (they also have cabins) and there are a few more options in Horsham.
The camping at Arapiles is very basic. Don't expect a groundsman moving lawns, or a reception to check it to. Its very much a freedom camping zone with a few toilet blocks (flushing and non-flushing) scattered through-out. There is water there, but its limited, especially in the summer months, so its a good idea to bring a few drums you can fill up in town.
There are a few campsites to choose from, but they are pretty much in the same place. Our group camped in the lower Gums area because there was a big group of us and it had the most space at this busy time of year. The Pines campsite is generally the most popular, and the place where fun things happen. We heard some loud house music coming from the pines one night and were tempted to go join the party. Upper Gums is also a good option, it seems to attract more families and kids than dirtbag climbers.
It costs a whopping $2.80 per night, you can book your campsite by clicking the button below. The ranger does come around now and then so its worth booking to be safe.
Part 4: What to bring?
The rock at Arapiles is solid and hard, it has lots of hard nuggets, funny lumps and varied surfaces. This makes it great for placing nuts and wires. Perfect cam placemats are slightly more rare, but they're still around. An average rack on a multipitch classic would include a double set of nuts and micronuts, a range of cams, a couple of hexes and 10 - 12 quickdraws. If possible, try make all of your draws extendable with 60cm slings. If that's not possible for you, just make sure you have 5 or 6 extendables between you and your climbing partner. Many of the routes meander up the face, so managing rope drag is important. All the routes mentioned in the Arapiles Guidebook (available in the Natimuk climbing store) can be climbed with a single 60m rope, however some routes would benefit form using double ropes. There are a few long rappels where two ropes will be needed to reach the bottom, but there is usually a walk of option if this doesn't work for you. Make sure to wear a helmet, as there are a lot of other people around to accidentally drop things or kick rocks high above you.
Aside from the regular climbing gear, a few carrot bolt hangers will come in handy, especially if you plan on climbing the watchtower crack, a true classic. If you don't have any of these you can always use a wire/nut to hook over it, however its not quite as secure.
Part 5: Climbing
A few suggested routes, and the odd grading at Arapiles
My preferred climbs are long multipitch routes which have an element of adventure to them, rather than pushing my grade on single pitch or trying to project something. While I was there I was able to climb about 10 of the long multipitch routes. There are hundreds of multipitch routes there, and over 1300 climbs in the guidebook. So bear those points in mind when reading my recommendations, there is so much to explore!
The grading is quite different to anywhere else I have been, however nearly all the climbing I have done is in New Zealand, so that might have something to do with it. In New Zealand if you saw something graded "8" you would laugh at it and do it in bare feet. However at Arapiles, its a different story. While a grade 8 at Arapiles is by no means extreemly dificult, it still requires some thought and at times committing moves. I'm not going to try and explain the whole Arapiles grading system to you, but you might want to start a little easier than you would normally. If you usually "on site" an 18 in New Zealand, you are in for a shock if you try do the same here. I would suggest starting below a grade 10 for most people, and then build up from there.
Remember, trad climbing takes extra time and energy than sport routes of similar grades. So if this is going to be your first experience placing your own protection, find tuition and take it easy.
Suggestion 1: Introductory Route, Grade 5, 135m
As the name suggest, its a great first route to do to get used to the rock. Its super easy with lots of options for protection. This was the first recorded route at Arapiles in 1963, its a long route so it makes a great outing. Be prepared to meet others on the route or at the start in busy times of the year, and bring some shoes to walk off with! See the photo at the top of the page.
Suggestion 2: Siren , Grade 9 / 1 2 , 145m
Siren is another classic, It features a "void" you have to step across, seen pictured, and the end has two options, either head right under a roof then up a awesome layback crack for a grade 12 finish , or stay left of the roof to stick with the grade 9 finish.
Suggestion 3: The Watchtower Crack, Grade 16, 95m
From the ground, the Watchtower Crack looks like it would be a 200ft layback, however a lot of it can be bridged. There are a couple carrot bolts to protect the crux so make sure to bring some hangers, but don't think that makes it any less intimidating. To quote the Arapiles guidebook, "the most commanding line at Arapiles still echo's with the cries of a thousand struggling leaders". If you can borrow and big cams (number 5 or 6) from a friend its worth it. Totally epic.
Some more climbs I really enjoyed:
- Panzer, Grade 12, 95m , - a mix of everything
- Brolga, Grade 16 , 100m - brilliant face climbing
Thanks for reading, I hope this helped plan you trip!!