Mount Arapilies, aka Araps, aka the Mount, aka the Piles... aka The Best Crag in the World. Perhaps it is! ...although it certainly doesn't look like much from the drive in, a rather unimpressive stretch of convoluted cliffline perched out in the middle of the Wimmera Plain - one step removed from the Outback. You won't find the size and scope of Yosemite, nor the striking lines of Indian Creek, but if you take the time to explore it's folds you will find a wealth world-class, fantastic trad climbs of all grades. Arapiles is stacked! There are several thousand climbs all within a 15 minute walk from the campsite. The rock is a very dense quartzite/sandstone, ocher-red in color with streaks of grey lichen. Many face features, baby-bottom slopers, and intermittent cracks make the area highly climbable and generally highly protectable; great face climbing and steep and overhanging terrain are typical. Wires are indespensible here and, in fact, the RP, named for inventor Roland Pauligk, was created specifically for protecting the Mount's small cracks.
The Mount was the real birthplace and heartland of Australian climbing, but it has also seen two significant "tours" by visiting international climbers -- specifically Henry Barber and Wolfgang Gullich. The early and mid sixties saw the first major wave of development of both easier free climbs and some aid routes. In the late sixties many of those aid lines started going free and the early seventies brought in more young talent. In 1975 the 21 year old Henry Barber single-handedly revolutionized climbing at Arapiles by freeing many of the Mount's hardest aid testpieces. His bold style was unmatched and many of his climbs were done barefoot and onsight (in fact, if he was unable to free a route first go, he would retreat and move on -- who knows what he would have accomplished using modern redpoint tactics!). This visit, although initially humbling to Australian climbers, ushered in "The New Wave" which included the likes of Mike Law, Chris Peisker, Greg Child, Glenn Tempest, Kevin Lindorff, and others. Many new hard lines went up, and when the super fit and dedicated Kim Carrigan showed up in the late seventies, the difficulty leapt ahead yet again. The eighties were dominated by Carrigan, Law, the Shepherd siblings and Mark Moorhead, and were punctuated by Wolfgang Gullich's visit in 1985 to put up Punks in the Gym (5.13d), at the time the hardest climb in the world. Since then development has slowed but not stopped; there is still plenty of virigin rock at the Mount and new routes go up each year, but perhaps the best of lines have been done. Although The Inquisition, the last great aid climb of the Mount, remains to be freed by future talent.
The camping scene is excellent -- there are two main campgrounds, the Pines, and the subsidiary Gums. The Pines is named for a growth of fir trees that were planted by early explorers in the area, and although they are gradually dying/being phased out by the park, they do provide a homey feel and a bit of relief from the blazing sun. There are two sources of running water near the camp -- both of which are bore-water and may or may not be safe to drink. Consume at your own risk. A small bathroom is also located nearby. Beware of the fire restrictions which are often in effect during the warmer months. A tarp is an essential item for shade, a hammock for rest days, and a good sized jar of Nutella will make you a lot of friends. Fees, as of 2004, were $3 AUD per night -- unenforced but worth the price. Basically the place feels a lot like a smaller, more quaint and welcoming version of Camp 4.
The nearby town of Natimuk (5-10 minute drive) has a dive of a pub, a fantastic gear shop, a milk bar, and lots of local climbers. The closest real town is Horsham, another 20 minutes past Nati, which has petrol stations, two major groceries, a hospital, a public swimming pool (although there are various swimming holes near the Mount, some within walking distance), banks, stores, restaurants, etc. During my extended stay I would usually make it in to Horsham once a week for supplies (including water).
Rest day activities generally consist of swimming holes, hammocks, eating and socializing, lounging around watching people fall off "Have a Good Flight," and other miscellaneous "can't be bothered" activities. For a fun challenge, try the post game: circumnavigate the entire Pines, hopping from post to post, tree to tree, without touching the ground (there's even an integrated slackline!). If you're (un?)lucky you might get invited to a climber's party or disco in the bustling town of Natimuk. Perhaps a better bet is to take your car, or befriend someone with one, and convince them to go to the nearby, and astonishing, Grampians... or at least for a swim at the Horsham pool. By the way, the pool is a great place for cheap showers as well.
Be careful of leaving food out unattended -- the possums and Kookaburras will find it. There are plenty of mostly harmless kangaroos around, and possibly venemous creatures but I never saw them.
When staying at Arapiles remember that it is a special, special place. Take care to leave it as you found it, if not better.
300 km northwest on the Western Highway from Melbourne brings you to Horsham. Follow the Wimmera Highway for 30 km west out of town, through Natimuk, until reaching an obvious and well-signed turn on the right that leads northward to the Mount.
Thunder Crack takes the obvious left-leaning cleft on the left side of the south-facing (shady) face of Bluff Major. Ascend this crack via stemming, contortion, and jamming. The story goes that this popular aid line was freed during Henry Barber's tour de force at Arapiles in 1975, despite many previous attempts. A crowd had gathered to watch, and as Hot Henry slung a horn and wrestled through the crux, he turned to ask who would second him up the route. There was simply a hush of silence an...[more]Browse More Classics in International
To be sure, Arapilies is a classic area with great climbing, camping and access. You're bound to have a great time. But people need to take it easy with the "best crag in the world" slogan. "Best crag in Victoria" is probably a more apt description.
By Monomaniac Administrator From: Morrison, CO May 10, 2007
Wait till you get a load of my "World's Greatest Grandson" T-shirt! You'll really flip your lid!
I don't think that Arapiles is anywhere close to being the "best crag in the world." I would give it a B. The rock is often quite polished and it's multi-pitch the way the Gunks is. That is, really short pitches. Also, if you go in Sept./Oct. be prepared to wear a face net during the day because of really pesky flies. My thoughts are shared by prominent British climbers Rab Carrington and Martin Boysen who visited the area with me last September. It's definitely worth a visit but you might get more joy in the Grampions. Jim D.
By Monomaniac Administrator From: Morrison, CO Jun 11, 2007
Before I went to Araps, I met quite a few folks who warned me not to go there for one reason or another. I can't speak to your experience, but after probing, all of the people who warned me off revealed various grade-related complaints. One guy didn't like it cause the cracks weren't "splitter-enough" for him (he was from Moab).
I went anyway and, although it took some getting used to, I eventually loved the place (although I did get worked on a few "classics" too). Araps probably offers the greatest diversity of climbing for a single crag in the world. There are pages of 4-star multipitch trad routes 5.4 and below (like the Gunks), but it also hosts the world's first 5.14 sport climb, and everything in between. Its hard to imagine how someone could NOT love this place, but I suspect the old-school grading has something to do with it, just as some people don't like Eldo, the Valley, Smith, JTree, or the Gunks.
True the quartzite rock has a smooth finish. It requires an adjustment if you're not used to climbing on a variety of rock types (like basalt, limestone, marble, glacier polished granite). I personally never found any of the holds to be polished to an extent that it negatively affected a route's quality. However, I can see how the smooth finish would pose a problem if you're overly-reliant on using Cams for pro, or if your footwork isn't the greatest.
I know what you mean about the short pitches! One trick I used to mitigate that problem was to run two or more pitches together by skipping recommended belay points. Another trick I used was to "free solo" (climbing w/o a rope).
I don't recall any bug problems, but I visited in late Oct/early Nov and bathed regularly. I definately got spanked on a few days, and subsequently got a bit down on the place for a few hours, but then I would solo a 500 foot, 4-star 5.3 on amazing stone, watch an awe-inspiring sunset from the summit, and walk through a pack of kangaroos on the way back to camp. Hard to stay bummed for long in a place like that!
Monomaniac, Could be that the bugs go away by October, they were a real bother when we were there. Be assured that over the last 40 years I have climbed on a lot of different rock types. the problem could be that after 40 years this aging climber needs all the friction he can get. Your right about the quality of the easier routes. I guess my real beef is that there is no "best crag in the world." Those who make such claims are bound to get some heat. Climbing is too varied and subjective to have an absolute term like "best" apply.
I lived in Melbourne for 9 months and made it out to both Grampians and Araps many times. It's understandable if you don't want to call it the best crag in the world, but it is no doubt World Class. The polished rock is accurate since it's metamorphosed, but not slipprier than Eldo, Devil's Lake or the basalt I've climbed. The rock is super hard and high-quality... RPs were made for this place and they work like a charm. Passive pro is king here.
Both campsites are busy and pretty fun. If you camp at the pines, be prepared to end up at the downhill side of your tent at some point each night. It can get kinda rowdy here so good luck getting to bed early.
No climbing trip to Australia would be complete without coming here. There are so many great routes, that I would spend at least two weeks here and another two in grampians. So much AMAZING rock to climb!
Too bad all the beer sucks in Australia (ok, Coopers excepted)... might as well bring your own Miller Light.
The late January / early February period is likely to be quite hot with highs consistently above 100. There is a good chance the flies would be out in force then too. You could get lucky and catch a cool spell, but the odds are against this.
As an Arapiles local, I can say that Jan/Feb is worth a visit if that is the time you have to go. It would be much like visiting Boulder in late July- more chance of hot weather, but not unbearable. This year it was down right autumn-like in Jan/Feb and March was a stinker. No matter the temperature, the joy of Araps is the many different aspects, so you can always find somewhere comfortable. There are some amazingly cool gullies on the hottest days. Ask a local where to go/not go on the hot days. And, believe it or not, you should pack something warm, even in Feb. Campers were wearing down jackets and wool hats evenings and mornings this Feb.
I was at Arapiles for 2 weeks in early July 2009. It was cold, and there were some rainy days, but there were also some good days. I felt the worst part was how short the days were - It was very demoralizing to have sun only 7:30-5:00, and spend the rest of the time in the cold dark. Go if its the only time you have to go. Check www.bom.gov.au/climate/averages/tables/cw_079023.shtml for climate averages (july averages the most rainfall, and ~10 rainy days per month) or post on www.chockstone.org and talk to some locals. I would also consider Frog Buttress that time of year - the weather/temps were definitely better, and the climbing was awesome (though all primarily single pitches). We were at Frog for a week.
Hey I am trying to get a trip to Arapiles from Seattle this Oct or Nov. Can anyone tell if this is a good time of the year to go also how to get there from Sydney. Any help I can get would be Awesome thanks!