Explore & Inspire, Outdoor Education

Rockclimbing for beginners at Mt Arapiles


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I’ve been climbing at Mt. Arapiles since 1989 with school groups, corporate groups, with my family and on my own. In this post I’ll share my experience and recommendations as a recreational climber and a professional guide. It’s not the be all and end all on the park, so please do your own research and I have put some links to sites that may also help you on your own time climbing.

Mt. Arapiles is approximately 350kms west of Melbourne and 115 kms to Naracoorte (and their famous caves) just over the South Australian border. You can drive or catch public transport to Horsham (train or bus) then bus to Natimuk then another bus to the edge of the park on the road to Edenhope. When leaving Natimuk by car, the road forks, you can take either route as they will both go to Centenary Drive taking you to the campground. I like taking the right fork to get the full view of the mountain and it’s breadth across the horizon. You’ll also see Mitre Rock which is a little further on from here on your right. If you take the left fork, you’ll pass the road that takes you to the summit and on Centenary Drive plus you’ll pass Declaration Crag. For further information on camping at Mt. Arapiles, please go to my post here.

Commonly referred to as ‘the mount‘, it rises 140 metres and considered by many as the best sandstone rockclimbing venue in the world. With over 3,000 climbs ranging from a gentle meander of five metres or more serious climbs of several pitches with overhangs and exposed walls. The mount has something for everyone.

The nearest town is Natimuk, 10 kms from the mount. Here you will find some excellent professional climbing guides you can hire for half and full days. I personally recommend The Climbing Company run by the talented Chris Peisker whose breadth of experience spans four decades. Another amazingly talented climber is Louise Shepherd who has been around since the 80’s nailing some of the serious climbs at Arapiles.

The diversity and accessibility to the climbs is also what makes this place unique. In the early 1980’s you could drive your car to the base of some of these climbs however, these days they are well partitioned off and frankly, it’s a very short walk to many of the climbs from the campground.

The Plaque

Aptly named as there is a plaque signifying Major Mitchell exploring the area in 1836 which he named after Arapiles near Salamanca in Spain. I was fortunate enough to have visited the same mount in Spain and frankly – it’s not that similar.

The Plaque is a two minute walk from The Gums campground and although not a big area it’s often swarming with climbers due to its locale. There is something for all climbers here – beginners to the seasoned climber. You can access the top of the Plaque by walking around the back and navigating your way along the ledge (it’s pretty safe). There are no loose rocks so you can spend time setting anchors for top roping or abseils without fear of knocking something off. For the lead climber, you’ll find good anchor points at the top to secure yourself too when belaying up the next climber.

The polished rock from years of climbers scooting up and down makes for interesting techniques. The climbs themselves are easy to protect although Maximus (13m / Grade 17) is all on small wires and cams. Other enjoyable climbs are Minimus (12m / Grade 14), Camelot (13m / Grade 10) a one move wonder. The test piece for many climbers is Dramp (15m / Grade 22) which is an easy first 5 metres into the little cave and from there is a series of one or two moves depending how tall you are to exit out and left. Climbed it once myself, on a top rope but never tried to lead it. Always enjoyable watching people throw themselves at this one. Bring a Crazy Creek Chair, sit down and watch the entertainment. If you do it in runners – you’re a star.

What I like about The Plaque is that there is a large slab of rock at the base instead of dirt or gravel which means your rope won’t getting trashed. It also means it’s a good place to sit and sort your gear, belay from and in the afternoon when the sun has gone down behind the mount, a delightful spot to hang out in the warm weather. During winter it’s a good spot for morning climbs but can get windy and chilly if the sun doesn’t come out. Be prepared to wait in a cue for some of these climbs during busy periods or at the end of the day. Some top ropers will just let you scamper up the cliff on their rope but due diligence – check their anchors and rope.

There are no toilets here or any other amenities. You’ll need to walk back to the campground if you need toilets or water.

Declaration Crag

500m east of the campground on the main road and unmissable if you drive in from the Edenhope Road is Dec Crag. You can explore the entire crag because there are climbs all the way around. One of the beauties of this crag is that if you’re top roping, the anchors are very good at the top.

At the back is a lovely chimney at the rear (7m / Grade 2) and a great place for someone learning to lead climb. There is good face climbing on the west side and fabulous beginner climbs that face the road. Try out Marshmellow Sea (14m / Grade 8) or Craddocks Crack (14m / Grade 9). There are also two good beginner climbs for those learning to lead between these two climbs – Deck Gully and Sunny Gully (14m / Grade 2).  From here you can walk around the crag to your right and find some excellent climbs. Try out Hammer Mall (12m / Grade 4) and Sickle  (12m / Grade 9). Like The Plaque, there are rock platforms around many of the bases so you can spread yourself out without sitting or standing in dirt or gravel. The test piece on this crag is Little Thor (12m / Grade 20) which is a steep, consistent climb with a small (and I mean small) roof that is the crux. Finally led this climb after years of top roping and although I did it clean, I did lead it on a top rope, then red pointed it before I went back a few months later and led it. At the base of Little Thor there are a few large boulders which make for a great viewing platform for onlookers. To the left is Marmot’s Mall (12m / Grade 15) that you’ll need small wires or your micro cams. It’s a challenging one to protect.

There are no toilets here or any other amenities. You’ll need to walk back to the campground if you need toilets or water. The car park is along the road.

Mitre Rock

At the western end of the mount on the other side of the road is a mini Arapiles. You can drive there or take a 40 minute walk from the camp ground parallel with the mount. Mitre is la big rock with a split down the middle where you can walk from one side to the other (east/west). Depending on the weather, you can choose which side to hangout.  In summer we would climb on the west side in the morning and east in the afternoon and vice versa in winter. There are fabulous climbs on the north side, one and two pitches. My first lead here was Exodus (36m / Grade 6) and is a classic route for those starting out. All the protection is there, but it is steep. If you are into top roping, Deacons Dilemma side is good for setups and climbs. For top roping try Prelate (15m / Grade 17) which has a quirky little finish.

There are no toilets here or any other amenities. You’ll need to make your way back to the campground if you need toilets or water. The car park is generous in size. The views from the top of the crag looking at Mitre Lake are magical, especially in September when the canola fields are yellow.

Bushrangers Bluff

A great place on hot days. You can walk there via the track east of the campground or drive back along Centenary Drive to the main Edenhope Road and then head up the summit road to the small carpark on the right. Walk in from here on the well-worn track. Bushrangers has easy and hard climbs plus a magnificent abseil off the top over Melville’s Cave. Beware that attaching to the large boulder slab could be perilous as it’s not attached to the main rock. Be diligent about what anchors you choose. You can access the top by walking around to the north and up through a gully. If you want some other good climbs, don’t go up the gully but veer right. Here are some fabulous intermediate climbs.

Please wear helmets here as there are often alot of people climbing and moving around the top of this area and there are a few loose rocks that still come off. Also, remove any rubbish. We once moved about 30 pieces of rubbish, often lolly wrappers from both sides of Bushrangers.

Melville’s Cave is easy to lead climb into with good pro. Some free climb into it but not for me. When my kids were little they loved climbing into the cave. You could belay two kids at once due to the low grade. This photo above was taken in 2006 with my kids all tied into the anchors set up inside. Below is a photo of my then 4yo climbing into the cave with her favourite soft toy tucked into her harness. The two kids on the left are also the same two in the last photo at the bottom of this post in 2015 at the west side of Bushrangers Bluff having a chock placement lesson from the talented Pete Holmes.

Another great thing about Bushrangers is you can choose which side to climb on depending on the weather. The west side in the morning if it’s warm and the cave side in the afternoon. Or in winter vice versa.

Time for a little self indulgence: I’d like to dedicate this post to Dennis Brown, one of my climbing mentors and an all round great guy. Dennis had over 25 years experience climbing in the military and in early 1990 he fell from the top of Bushrangers Bluff to his death (to the left of the cave). There is a small plaque in remembrance of him and every time I visit, I leave a small bunch of local blooms next to the plaque and say a private thank you to him for all his generosity and faith in me to become a climbing guide. If have alot of photos of Dennis and myself climbing but in those days we didn’t have digital photos and they are slides so unfortunately, can’t put any up in honour of him.

Believe me – he was a great guy and a wonderful friend. In that year there were five climbing deaths – three at Mt Arapiles (knew all 3 of them) and 2 secondary school students at Lal Lal Falls.

The Organ Pipes

The home of multi-pitch classics only a short walk from the camp ground and therefore, popular with beginners. You can sit at The Plaque and try to guess which climbs people are on, listen to their calls echoing across the park and at dusk, watch the head torches as people come down from their late starts.

These tall sandstone columns are jam packed with awesome routes all within a close distance from each other. You can rap off one climb, walk a few metres and try something completely different. D-Minor is a ‘must do’ (50m / Grade 13) but oh so polished from frequent climbers and well known for some spectacular lead falls. Tannin (40m / Grade 19) is brilliant and another must do.

There are no toilets here or any other amenities. You’ll need to make your way back to the campground if you need toilets or water. Take all your supplies for a day out. Pack out your rubbish (including poop), bring plenty of water and all your food / snacks as you’ll often by our for the entire day.

Bouldering

Bouldering is a popular past time and there are a numbers of places you can have a go that are sprinkled around the mount just above The Pines. Krondorf and Golden Streak area are the most popular. Take note that they are often busy late in the afternoon / early evening, particularly in the warmer months. I”d suggest you bring a bouldering mat because there are alot of loose rocks around it. Remember if you are going to climb to the top, think about how you’re going to get down.

One of the more popular bouldering places is The Squeeze (pictured left) which in 2014 a 24 yo man became stuck in it and had to stay overnight until rescued – click here for more information. I have many photos of my kids and their friends ‘squeezing’ through this but of course, they were 12 at the time and probably weighed 40kgs and as thin as a rake so it wasn’t something we were concerned about. Did this myself back in 1990 but wouldn’t try it these days. Get a tad bit claustrophobic.

Many outdoor companies have banned this for groups to endeavour to try due to the incident mentioned above however, recreational climbers still enjoy giving this a go.

There has been a push to cement this up so there won’t be another incident but frankly, I’d consider that sacrilege. We should all be allowed to push our limits and boundaries and sometimes the outcome isn’t always as expected but if we don’t try, then we don’t know.

Summary

Note: Dec. Crag, Bushrangers Bluff, The Plaque, Mitre Rock and the Organ Pipes are popular with groups. In saying that though, other climbers are often happy to negotiate with you on accessing the climbs.

Visitors are known to stay for months at a time, camped in The Pines nestled amongst the old pine trees, choosing the best days to meander up to the mount and tackle a climb or two.

It’s not uncommon to be serenaded to sleep with the sounds of a distant saxophone or the sound of protection jangling as climbers return from a late night descent.

In The Pines you’ll often see slack lines erected, fire stick jugglers and  all sorts of interesting characters.

You’ll need a guide book which you can purchase from the climbing shop in Natimuk (or any good outdoors store) and educate yourself about where to start. Note that many of the routes have lower-offs so bring the correct gear.

Please note that the grades and lengths I’ve quoted were taken from The Arapiles Guide Book however, these are subject to change as climbs are occasionally regraded.

Big thank you to the incredible Rob Ogilvie who is not only amazing climber but an outstanding leader in the outdoors. Rob helped me with this post so it’s as accurate as possible and his knowledge is more current than mine. Thanks Rob.

Now it’s your turn. Leave a comment below on your experiences as a beginner or when you were a beginner and feel free to let me know if there are any inaccuracies in this post.

Happy climbing.

 

 

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