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24 Nov 2008

Arapiles picture frame 

So that’s it: Summer to Winter in 24 hours.  No one can tell I’ve got a tan because I’m so wrapped up in clothes; what a waste.  And its 5am, the jet lag still in full swing 2 days after I arrived back.  I’ve been on a journey to the other side of the world and re-visited my spiritual climbing home:  Arapiles.  You may think I’ve gone all airy fairy but I was astounded at the feeling that place gave me… again.

DreadnoughtWhen I first visited Arapiles 11 years ago it summed up everything I wanted from climbing: camping in the dirt, beautiful, solid golden rock, trad, history and fantastic, interesting moves.  Some things just don't change.

However this trip I thought of breaking out and spending time elsewhere.  I dreamed of climbing Serpentine (8a) on Taipan Wall.  When I arrived in Victoria from the Blue Mountains, the first thing I did was get on the route – something like arriving in Yosemite and getting straight on Astroman.  It was windy, cold and I was out of my depth.  It all felt wrong.

Just to give you an idea of what Taipan is like, here is a video>> of Ben Cossey attempting a new route (which will be at least 8c, probably more), a huge extension to an existing route Groovy.  The top 20 metres of the route has just 4 bolts in it.

Should I continue with Serpentine?  I could do all the moves.  Was the most prestigious and famous pitch in Australia worth giving up time elsewhere?  I knew it would take me about 4 days to piece together the crux 50 metre pitch, but including rest days that would take half my time in Victoria.  To sort out my confused brain the only option was to go to Arapiles.  The minute we pulled into the campsite instantly things made more sense.  No other crags have struck such a chord with me as Arapiles.  It’s the way it makes me feel and this time the feeling was more powerful than ever.

Arapiles view

So that was that, Serpentine was out of the picture and my holiday took on a new direction.  My most memorable climb was Deep Freeze one of only 3 routes on an independent buttress in the Central Gulley, just like so many of the gems crammed in behind more obvious features.  It was a product of my thorough scouring of the guidebook, grade 24 and 2 stars.  When we arrived at the 15 metre high route, there was no chalk and the doubts crept in.  It was that classic Arapiles rock, a series of smooth bubbles or bum cheeks (as Nic and I like to call them) with few apparent visible holds for hands or feet.  On first acquaintance gear placements weren’t obvious either but soon our eyes adapted and small slots appeared.

Deep Freeze

It’s probably the best piece of onsighting I’ve ever done… until I fell off!  The crux was an inexplicable shuffle up and sideways on bubbly bum cheeks!  When I fell off a big move right at the top of the route, I lowered to the ground and wondered how I would repeat this section.  I did and that evening Simon the guidebook writer explained that there was a mistake in the guidebook and the route was actually 25.  That’s 7a+/7b.  Oh, that makes sense!

ErgonomicsArapiles is not to everyone’s taste (for some unbelievable reason).  One French climber dismissed the place after just one day based on his experience of the classic Punks in the Gym 8b+.  He was frustrated at the lack of grip or holds.  For me, this is the whole point: infuriating, delicate, technical masterpieces.  Why should it be easy?  The area cannot be rivalled by anywhere else in the world for total classics at every grade, with technical challenges being guaranteed on every one.

So Nic and I were an obsessed climbing pair frantically trying to climb everything.  Apart from a trip to Sydney we were thoroughly uncultured!

But we did sample one local treat… yabbying with our friend and local expert Tim.  Yabbies are freshwater crayfish living in the small dams… mmm delicious with garlic.  Here are some photos laying out the nets, catching them and cooking them!  And here's a video>> on how to peel one!!!!!!


One week to go

14 Nov 2008

So this is it, time is almost up and its been a whirlwind few weeks.  However things changed the minute I set foot upon Arapiles.  All that dreaming about Taipan and Serpentine, but immediately as the car weaved into the campground I was reminded of why Arapiles is my favorite crag in the world.

Collision course 22 Arapiles

Above:  Collision Course (22 or E3) has always had a bees nest on it on my previous trips.  Here I am about to set off up the immaculate rock. 

We'd just spent some time at Taipan.  I was getting pumped and frankly out of my depth.  The climbing there is truely out of this world, but there's a minimum level there to feel truely at home, I don't think I found it - I would need more time.  There is a calmness and wonder about Arapiles.  The buttresses are like old friends but yet everytime we return there's something new to discover.  The campsite is full and everyone is present for one and only reason; for pure fun and enjoyment of climbing on the golden bumps of Arapiles.

Venom 28 at Taipan

I did climb something at Taipan.  Finally I'm feeling fit on Venom (28 or 7c+).  It climbs the delicious water worn edge of a scoop.









For me its a journey back to the old days.  I seem to have shunned the sport climbing and am enjoying the wonders of onsight trad again, something that's been an awkward battle in the background for a while with me.  Working out moves and gear placements from the ground, setting off into the unknown, its exciting.

I've hit a new onsight grade at Arapiles - 24 - that's 7a on gear.  This step up has happened every time I return here and opens up a new world of routes each time.  Ok, I've onsighted that grade before in other places but every area is different and takes a while to get into the mode.  Its just a number, but the climbing here is so crazily technical, onsights here on trad beyond 26 are rare.  As a visitor you have no idea what you're getting on as the grade doesn't reflect how protected climbs are.  I've rediscovered my adventurous spirit which has been lost in boulders and bolts for a while.  Tentatively and rather nervously its great to step on and upward finding challenges along the way.

Its going to be hard to come home!