After about 4 hours' drive north-west from Melbourne, the countryside flattens out and an outcrop appears which at first sight resembles Uluru (Ayres Rock). It is the one last blip before Australia‘s Great Dividing Range peters out. Closer inspection reveals this kilometre-long outcrop to be a complex network of cliffs, crags, buttresses and gullies, packing in far more climbing than might be imagined. It is called Mount Arapiles and has over two thousand routes.
The first recorded climbs were The Siren (9), Introductory Route (5) and Tiptoe Ridge (3) on 16 November 1963. "Hot" Henry Barber's visit to Arapiles in 1975 brought a big leap in free climbing standards and was hugely influential with the local scene. Kim Carrigan, Mike Law and Mark Moorhead are three main Australian climbers who developed many cutting edge routes there in the 1970's and early 1990's. Wolfgang Gullich's visit in 1985 is famous because he climbed the first ascent of Punks in the Gym (32, or 8b+) then the hardest route in the world, and was followed up by Stefan Glowacz's visit the next year when he climbed Lord of the Rings (31) and made the first repeat of Punks in the Gym. Local David Jones has established many hard routes at Arapiles over the years, was one of the first Australians to climb Punks in the Gym, and in 1998 added a link-up that finishes up Punks in the Gym - called Punks Addictions (33) - which was the hardest route at Arapiles for many years. In 2012 New Zealander Wiz Finneron made the first free ascent of Somalia (33/34), currently probably the hardest climb at Arapiles.
The ultra-hard rock is a joy to behold — and fondle and crimp. Pressure and heat has produced quartzose sandstone with smooth bulges dubbed ‘bum rock'. There is sport climbing at higher grades but trad is the trump card. The easy routes are truly world-class and perhaps unrivalled for refining the art; they feature fissures for bomber placements, chicken-heads and jugs galore.
Onsighting harder routes is unexpectedly tricky not only because hanging around placing gear is pumpy. Cruxes present technical problems of three dimensional movement and thinking: their secrets are often only revealed to climbers who've slumped onto the end of their rope.
Climbers come here for months and pick from "The Pines" or "The Gums" for setting up camp. It is not quite as carefree as it used to be, thanks to "user pays", but Arapiles remains the spiritual and cultural home of Oz climbing. Many take up residence in Natimuk — a mini-metropolis nearby where their booming numbers have sent house prices soaring. It's a good place for lifers.
FOOD AND ACCOMODATION
Nearby Natimuk (10 minutes' drive from Arapiles) offers a range of basic services. A pub with pool tables, a takeaway/milkbar, the newsagent/Post Office, and a climbing equipment shop. Horsham (30 minutes' drive from Arapiles) has everything else: cafes, supermarkets, swimming pool, library, travel agents, theatre, and much more for hot/wet/rest days. Most people camp at Mt Arapiles where there are simple facilities: A place for a tent ($4 a night per person), taps and toilets. At Natimuk Lake – about 13km from Arapiles - it is also possible to camp and there are a few cabins available. In Natimuk the pub has self-contained units. And Horsham has a big range of options from caravan parks through to motels.
Click here for more information about the 50 years climbing history with photo gallery.
The Arapiles, 444 of the Best. By Gordon Poultney and Simon Cater, 2013. An inexpensive small-format guidebook covering the best routes.
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