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Koalas, Kangaroos, and Climbing

We did some climbing during our Australia trip, on weekend trips out of Melbourne. We headed out to Arapiles first, and arrived at the famed Pines campground on a moonlit evening, with the birds singing and the cliff looming overhead. Several of the neighboring sites had been occupied by the same parties for a long time. They had tarps over their tents, and one site even had a couch thrown in for good measure. We set up near the people with the couch, with a huge (pine) tree between our respective sites.

The crazy cuckadoos woke us up in the morning. These birds are everywhere in Victoria, and describing them as raucuous is understating it considerably. After getting some shots of the sunrise, and getting our first real look at the cliff, and after the usual breakfast dilly dally, we set out. Ran into a couple of kangaroos, which we became pretty used to later on.

Arapiles has a well deserved reputation. It is kind of a combination of the Gunks and Red Rocks, that is solid rock with lots of features. There are quite a few horizontal features and roofs, but also a lot of chicken head face climbing. Like the Gunks there are a lot of moderate routes, but unlike the Gunks, the topology of the cliff is much more complex, with gullies, buttresses and ledge systems. Nut placements are abundant, and RPs do indeed fit better. They were designed for Arapiles, and are named after their inventor, Ronald Paulgik.

Sunrise at the Pines
First look at Arapiles, Bard Buttress

We got on Siren. The route has 3 stars in the book, but I can't really comment on that, as I got off route pretty quickly on the second pitch. I was drawn to a small roof on the right, which got me on some runout 5.6 face climbing to the belay. After that, I completely missed the third pitch traverse, and climbed up towards the headwall, ending up really off route again. I set up a belay on a small ledge, then led an exit pitch that looked rather daunting, with thin pro to start with. However, as advertised by the guidebook, a couple of hidden buckets -- typical of Arapiles -- saved the day. This is probably on a route to the right of Xena, and the exit pitch is very nice 5.6.

We hit the crag on an unseasonably hot weekend, so the climbing would go something like this:

  • first pitch, drink 1 liter of water between Ann and I
  • second pitch, drink another liter, run out of water
  • third pitch, top out, then descend, go to camp to get water
  • go back to climb, or go to town to get lemonade ? lemonade
View from the top of Arapiles
Northeast Face of Pharos Buttress

The next day we climbed on the Tiger Wall, on a route that sees more traffic, so it was easier to stay on route. The Eigth was most excellent three pitches, steep for the grade, and with very good pro. There were two more grunge pitches to the top from Flinders Lane, which we skipped in favor of the class 3 descent (Ali's). That turned out to be a mistake. After fumbing for a while finding the descent we got to a very steep spot that has a chain on it. The wall gets vertical, so I couldn't see where the chain ended, and did not like the downclimb at all. We reversed course, went back all the way to the top of the cliff, which involved some more soloing 5th class terrain, and descened down the Central Gully trail. When we got back to camp, I was rather dehydrated and I kept drinking water and lemonade pretty much all the way to Melbourne.

Natimuk, where we got the lemonade

The next weekend we went to the Grampians, for a shorter drive, and to avoid the crowding at Arapiles for the long Easter weekend. I started out with the idea that we were going sport climbing, originating from all the pictures of Lynn Hill and others climbing in Australia. The guidebook dispelled the notion pretty quickly. There is sport climbing in the Grampians, but at the higher grades only. Entry level is still trad. We ended up going to Mt Difficult, another sandstone crag with some imposing corners again reminiscent of the Gunks. The approach and descent were long and involved, so we only had time to do one climb per day. We did Whipped Cream and Kabana. The latter has some great moves, it is rather steep and exposed, but also has some manky rock for good measure.

Later that night, we ran into a couple of Romanian climbers at the campground. Fancy that. I shocked them by addressing them in Romanian, it was quite funny. We got together later on in Melbourne, which is where they live. This being Australia, there are tons of other cool things to do besides climb. So on the last day of the weekend, we stopped at a wildlife park in Ballarat. Besides having kangaroos roam free all over the place, it was pretty neat to see all the species in one place. Our conclusion was that all Australian animals are weird, either marsupial, or venomous, or both ...

In retrospect, there are a lot of other things to do in Australia besides climb, and to be fair, climbing was not the highlight of our trip. Even so, Arapiles is outstanding special place, and we spent enough time in the country (six weeks), that it was worth taking the rack and rope.

By the Road

List of Climbs

  • Siren / Xena 5.6 (**)
  • The Eigth (5.4+ ***)
  • Whipped Cream (5.5)
  • Kabana (5.5+)

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