can I say about Arapiles that hasn't already been said a thousand times
before? Very little I fear! Many a would-be writer has waxed lyrical about
the magic of Victoria's climbing Mecca, the premier destination, possibly
the very the heart and soul of traditional climbing in Australia. Too
much? Okay, so we all know it's the bee's knee's, that it fills the dreams of
climbers world wide, inspires many a new comer to take up the sharp end,
and causes Melbournians to get up at ungodly hours of the morning to make
the mad 4 hour rush to The Pines campground, just so they can be at the
front of the queue on the Bard.
Right: Mt Arapiles Reflections. Photo by
Michael Boniwell. To purchase a print,
click here, then select "Buy Photo".
Arapiles is home to over 2000 quality routes,
condensed into one, and let's be honest, fairly small mountain. There are
climbs within a stones throw of the infamous Pines campground, and you
don't have to walk far at all to access hundreds of worthwhile routes.
Basically if you can't find a line you like at Araps, then you're in the wrong
sport. The rock is super strong sandstone, that really lends itself to
solid nut placements. The climbing is essentially all traditionally
protected. There are a few bolts around, but they're mainly on the harder
stuff, and only in places where natural gear won't suffice. If you turn up
with a power drill and rack of draws, you'll likely be strung from the
nearest tree and fed to the blue tongue lizards!
mountain rises above the otherwise flat landscape just 33km south-westish
of Horsham, near the little town of Natimuk (see map). Horsham has several
supermarkets, cafes and restaurants, so supplies shouldn't be an issue.
The Natimuk pub does counter meals (until 8pm I believe), and is generally packed with climbers
of an evening. Which brings me to another point: crowds. The absolute
worst time to visit Arapiles is over Easter break. You'll be sharing the
cliffs with over 500 other climbers, I kid you not. Expect a queue at the
base of every 2 and 3 starred climb within walking distance of the Pines.
The best time to visit is the day after Easter break, when a couple of nut
tools and a quick run up the classic lines will yield a rack of otherwise
stuck booty gear. The advantage of it's popularity, of course, is that
finding a climbing partner on-site should not be difficult, unless you're
5 days past your last shower, and look like the climbing bum from hell. If
so, there's a wealth of boulder problems scattered about the base of the
Realistically Araps is an all year round crag. In the
height of summer you'll bake on the Watchtower face, for example, but with
a bit of planning you can easily find a shaded line somewhere. In the depths
of winter, even with a light rain falling, you can climb dry rock by
seeking out the lines protected by overhanging terrain, such as
"Mantis" (grade 14) on Fang Buttress behind the Plaque or "Oceaniod"
on the front of the Pharos.
costs $2 a night per person. There are three official campgrounds all in
the one location, though "The Pines" has all the atmosphere and
history. The toilets have recently been upgraded and are quite good.
There's a public telephone, useful in case of emergencies. There's bore water on-site, but it doesn't hurt to bring your
own because it tastes pretty ordinary. If you want a swim there's a few
options, including the Wimmera River, though I'd advise you to avoid Lake
Toolondo in the late summer - it's just a mud hole. Showers can be
purchased from a camping & caravan park at Lake Natimuk. You
can hire climbing gear, like shoes, harness, etc (or feed your gear
addiction and buy more metal for your rack), at the local climbing shop in
Natimuk. Note, the new regulation: "Mount Arapiles will be a fuel-stoves-only area for a six month period from 1st November to 30th April each year".
offers diverse forms of non-climbing entertainment. Expect to find slack
rope walkers, hackey-sack players, fire jugglers, flying foxes, gentle music from classical
guitars mixed with thumping loud stereos, the occasional drunken yahoo's,
and basically just lots and lots of climbers all hanging out, cooking,
sleeping, talking, and bragging about their latest ascent. "Permanent"
residents abound, just look for the camp sites that appear to have been
set up for months, because in all likelihood they have. Often one
university or another, that offers an outdoor education course, will descend
upon the campground in their multitudes, (usually very late at night just
as you are finally falling asleep), occupying all the good sites and
generally filling the Pines with activity and noise, so don't ever count
on reserving a site for your mates, or expecting one iota of personal
space. If you need space, go climb in the remoter parts of the Grampians.
Above Left: Bard Buttress and Tiger Wall. Above
Right: Looking down at the Pines campground, from up on the bluffs.
There are frequent guided groups, school groups, and
top ropers galore, but they generally keep to the shorter, more isolated
crags, such as Bush Ranger Bluff, Declaration Crag, and so on. The
"Plaque", being only a hop, skip and a jump from the campground
is almost never without a large group of beginners swarming up it's
polished features. Newish leaders also abound, and classics such as The
Bard, and just about anything on The Organ Pipes will likely be scaled
many times per day by them. The good news, however, is that with 2000 odd
routes to choose from you can easily evade the masses, by walking a bit
further, and still tick a mega classic lead.
Which routes do I recommend? Well, pick just about
any starred climb and you won't go
wrong. Get yourself a copy of Arapiles
Selected Climbs, the guide book authored by Simon Mentz & Glenn
Tempest, and available from local climbing shops, or the VCC. I'd estimate
that 1 in every 3 climbers at Araps would own a copy. It's simply the best
climbing guide book I've ever seen, with it's greatest feature being the
pictures. Just about every climb is pictured with a white line showing the
path up the cliff. With this little beauty in your hands, route finding is
no longer an issue.
this is your first visit, and you want a sample of the easy classics,
head on over to the Organ Pipes and get in line to tick, D Major (grade
10), and D Minor (grade 14). The later is my personal favourite of the
easier lines, though I'm not alone. I believe it once got voted "best
climb in Victoria" or some such thing. It's a series of fun little
steep sections, each slightly harder than the last. Two pitches, with rap
chains to get off. Other recommendations? Well, everybody loves
"Muldoon", the grade 13 jug fest, and of course, for pure
historic appeal, you can't go past "The Bard", grade 12, with
it's infamous, and comical traverse pitch. Still in the easy stuff, you'll
love "Eskimo Nell", grade 10, for a taller outing, and for a bit
of adventure climbing try "Lamplighter" at grade 14, though the
final pitch can be a tad tricky.
For something a bit harder head up the
"Watchtower Crack". At grade 17, it's four pitches of fun
adventure climbing, and something to tell your friends about, with one belay
not hanging, but certainly cramped, and involving small wires. At around
grade 17/18, I can recommend, "Death Row", "Oceniod",
"Eurydice", "XI", "Howling Wolf", etc.
Everyone will say "Missing Link", but if you do it, use two ropes
to reduce drag. For a 19 worth a look, try "Lemmington" on the
face opposite "D Minor". Short, easy to access, and will make you pay attention.
If you found it easy, head up "Tannin" for a taller, pumpy 19. For
rooves, try the ever popular, one move wonder, "Pilot Error",
grade 20. Make sure you get the obligatory photo! If you're still looking
for a roof, try "Kachoong", grade 21, and let me know how the
lead went! If you're leading harder than that, well, you don't need my
advice. One of the hardest things out there is the world renowned "Punks In
The Gym" at grade 31. Every now and then you'll see some dude working
it. Have fun!
Above Left: Ben, leading "Pilot
Error", the grade 20 one move wonder, that's been climbed in all
manner of styles including, so the rumour goes, some dude who soloed it
nude and cracked open a beer on the crux.
Melbourne to Arapiles on Public Transport
Train to Ararat, then Bus to Horsham with V-Line
timetable). Local Bus to Natimuk -for the schedule for the local
bus try calling: V/Line Services - Horsham. Address: Horsham Coach
Terminal, Roberts Ave, Horsham, 3400. Tel: (03) 5381 1871 or ( AH) 136 196
If you're visiting Australia from overseas, and are yet unacquainted
with Arapiles rock, perhaps make note of these points. You won't find any
"fixed hangers" to clip. On the rare occasions when there is a
bolt, it will require a "bolt plate". They're worth about $5 AUD
each, and you can easily pick up a few from any climbing shop, including
the one in Natimuk. If you get stuck up a route without any plates, just
slide a nut back on it's wire, hook it over the bolt head, and slide
it up again for a tight fit. You might also find you need some RP's or micro
nuts on a few of the harder climbs, though you'll likely get by without
them. If you're stuck for transportation, check V-Line,
for the train from Melbourne to Ballarat, then catch a bus to Horsham, though you could probably bum a
lift by hanging out at any of the Melbourne climbing
gyms, and practicing a little charm.
Selected Arapiles Climbing Areas
Just the particularly worthwhile crags. The approximate
number of climbs shown comes from TheCrag.com's
Clearly visible from the road as you approach the
Pines camp site from the south side, this little gem of an outcrop
is the perfect road side crag and is very popular despite or perhaps
because of the short nature of the routes. Instructors often use
this as a beginners training ground with starred climbing as low as
grade 2, though there are some greater intermediate and way hard
routes too. The classic draw card is "Little Thor" 12m 20,
which has spat off it's share of leaders. Take the micro cams on
"Marmot's Mall", 12m grade 15 without them its not so easy to protect. Have
a lash at "The Ferrets Are Coming" 12m grade 19, perhaps
on top rope, which would be worth a star if the protection was
Bush Ranger Bluff
A handy little out of the way spot for beginners and
top ropers, though it does have one or two harder lines. You can
even do a spot of caving (I nearly got stuck once).
For some seriously fun (though short) crack routes that
can be easily top roped. Christian Crack (20) is the line to choose if
you want to practice jamming. Tape up if need be. To it's right the
grade 18 is just as fun, with a little less jamming required. Note
both of these are a very serious lead. However you've got a fun little
13 to the right, and the "easy for the grade" 22, face climb on the
left. Basically a great little spot. Rap chains to get off. You've
also got the short Comic Strip wall behind it. In the picture above
the good crack routes are on the left buttress.
King Rat Cliffs
This is a shady little retreat from the summer sun,
though in winter it's a damp sort of place. Here you'll find King Rat
at grade 18 sharing the committing overhang with a neighbouring grade
23 that is equally as exciting. Skydiver wall to it's right, contains
some hard stuff. Guarding the entrance to the gully is Lizard
For some unknown reason Pilot Error a 12m grade 20
roof problem has become incredibly popular, despite it being a one
move wonder. There's a collection of routes in the area that are
short by Araps standards, making it not a bad spot to tick something
hard late in the day. "Debutantes and Centipedes" 18m
grade 25 is well worth a look if you're into scary face climbing on
mixed trad and bolts.
This area has some superb routes all within sight of
the pines. Anyone who hasn't yet lead Muldoon 42m grade 13 is mad
not to head straight for it. A pure jug fest! And it's neighbour
"Surface To Air" 30m grade 17 is one the most enjoyable
juggy leads around. For a exposed thrill at an easy grade try
"Agamemnon" 40m grade 10 that gets plenty of air under the
crux bridging. For the hardcore types, check out "Have A Good
Flight" 20m grade 25 over on the Flight Deck wall. I've watched
many a budding hardman pop off this powerful line, which is way
beyond my abilities. The three star route "Orestes" 40m
grade 24 in the corner crack is reputed to be easy for the grade.
Most people just do the powerful 20m first pitch, complete the
dramatic traverse and rap off the fixed anchors.
||Organ Pipes Gully
A collection of routes near the Organ Pipe descent
gully. Here I can recommend "Lemmington" the 18m grade 19
that sits on the face opposite the rap down D-Minor pinnacle. Beware
the poorly protected dog leg traverse. When rapping off D-Minor
pinnacle don't pull the ropes before running up "Aardvark"
18m grade 18. The crux is the first few moves. It's got some nice
rests, making the lead very enjoyable.
Organ Pipes *
Undoubtedly the most popular crag at Arapiles. A
series of tallish vertical columns packed with features offer one
outstanding route after another all within a hop, skip and a jump
from the Pines camping ground. Beginner leaders flock to the pipes
mainly due to the wealth of easy to intermediate routes all so close
together. The downside is that its so busy you'll need to queue up
to get on classics like D-Minor, and the sandstone has sadly become
polished from greasy climbers mitts. Make sure you save Tannin, 40m
grade 19, for the on-sight lead, it's not nearly as tricky as it
looks and is probably my all time favourite climb at Araps.
Central Gully Left Side
Kind of following the Organ Pipes track higher up the
gully you'll find a wealth of worthwhile stuff. "Beautiful Possibilities"
30m grade 15 has got to be one of the most enjoyable leads. Nearby
"Pedro" 35m grade 10 always seems to attract a queue. A
bit of a walk further up you'll find "Howling Wolf" 28m
grade 18, which I can really recommend. The well protected crux is
all about getting the sequence right. Technique wins this
||Upper Central Gully
Central Gully Right Side
This is a big area and includes such crags as Mari Buttress,
Preludes Wall, Reaper Buttress, Dunes Buttress, etc. A friend once had a cam rip free
of Mari leading to a deck out fall, so beware its glassy smooth
cracks. Of course for a top beginners outing, or just an easy,
enjoyable romp you can't go past good old "Eskimo Nell" 109m
grade 10 that leads up Dunes Buttress and offers grand views
overlooking the Pines camping ground and beyond. Nearby Saracen 114m
grade 16 is also well worth fighting the shrubs on route and steep
walk to the base. Over on Preludes Wall you'll find Dracula 40m
grade 11. Rapping off the huge cave bollards is way cool. Nearby
"Preludes" 35m grade 17 is also real rewarding. There's
just too much good stuff here to describe in one paragraph.
||Major Mitchell Gully
This is a free standing crag set out in front of the
Bard Buttress, behind the Plaque area. Here you'll find the
sheltered route "Mantis" 30m 14 which is good if it rains.
You'll also find "XI" 30m 18, with it's pumpy little crux,
well worth a look. Beware nearby "Morfydd" 30m grade 19
below the Bluffs. It gets two stars so is often climbed, but it's
probably one of the scariest and hardest 19s I've been on.
Within spitting distance of the Pines camping ground
this tiny tor is generally swarming with beginners and people
looking to make one last tick before the days end. It's almost ridiculously
popular. It's features have become so polished from climbers hands
that the grades probably go up each summer. The classics here are
"Minimus" 12m grade 14 and "Camelot" 13m grade
10, both probably top roped 50 times a day by large groups. Just
right you'll find "Maximus" 13m grade 17 which is a very
enjoyable lead on small cams and wires if you can push past all the
crowds to get at the rock. Right again is the Plaque test piece
"Dramp" 15m grade 21 that runs through the little roof and
is basically a one move wonder, which never fails to entertain. I've
seen people toss their helmet just to get the extra two centimetres
reach required to pull the single hard move.
The Bard 120m grade 12, is one of the most historic
and oft climbed routes at Arapiles. People get up in the wee small
hours just to queue at it's base. The comical traverse pitch never
fails to scare first timers. It takes an easy line up the most
dominating feature of the whole place, the Bard Buttress & Tiger
Wall. The buttress overlooks the Pines camp ground drawing climbers
like moths to a flame. It's packed with fun climbs. Even the descent
via Ali Baba's Cave is an adventure. Eury Dice 70m 18 on the face
overlooking the Pines is a must do.
Getting up to The Bluffs is a challenge in itself.
However, once there you'll have all sorts of goodies to choose from,
including the oft repeated classic "Missing Link" 30m
grade 17, a bold outing that really needs two ropes to avoid drag on
the lead. Rap chains let you descend easily. The fun little
"Block Buster" grade 11 will put you on top of the Bluffs
if you just want to get up it, or you could pick a more serious
route like linking something to "Quo Vadis" grade 19. For
a strenuous and scary outing head up "Thunder Crack" 30m
grade 20, or "Despatched" 40m grade 23 that overlook Ali's
descent facing down into the central gully. These are seriously spectacular
lines, and very inspiring to watch being climbed.
Just a stones throw right of Bard Buttress you'll see
Tiger Wall, one of the biggest cliffs at Araps with a wealth of easy
and hard lines. Steer clear of the loose and mossy bits further
right and taste the classics such as Resignation 96m grade 15, a
romp of a climb with a fun little crux. People queue up to get on
Kestrel 50m grade 13 I think mainly because you can rap down, but
also due to the fun three dimensional bridging. Once at the summit
of Tiger Wall, don't discount the opportunity to explore The Bluffs
Very popular free standing crag with easy access.
Heaps of lines graded 24 and above all packed into one weird little
block. Nothing over half a rope length so rapping off is easy. Some
overhanging stuff for the hardcore types, but most people come to do
Swinging 20m grade 17 and it's brother Trapeze 20m grade 11.
The Pharos *
This outcrop has it all. If I could pick one crag to
transplant into my backyard, this would be my choice. It's got a
climb for every mood and every skill level. From the beginners
ramble "Spiral Staircase" 95m grade 8, right up to the all
time classic Araps test piece "Punks In The Gym" 35m grade
31, which, for a short while was considered the hardest route in the
world and still attracts overseas visitors today. A block to the
side of the Pharos called Death Row Pinnacle offers the challenging
but very rewarding "Death Row" 45m grade 18. The Pharos
front wall, sheltered from the rain, gives you such classics as
"Oceaniod" 75m grade 17, while the back wall houses the
well trodden route "Lamplighter" 78m grade 14, which
usually has a queue three parties deep. There's also several three
star grade 21 and above climbs here. Gotta love the Pharos. Even
the free hanging 50m abseil descent is an adventure!
||The Pinnacle Face
"Tip Toe Ridge", the 120m grade 5 ramble is
sometimes soloed in the dark by mad keen climbers who turn up late
at night and can't get to sleep without ticking a classic. There's
plenty of other easy to intermediate long adventure routes here to
The Watchtower Faces *
How can you pass up the opportunity to climb the
Watchtower Crack, 95m grade 16? It's got to be the all time classic
Araps adventure route for the intermediate climber. Admittedly the
lower two pitches are a tad broken by ledges, but the upper two are
pure gold. Beware the cramped belay on RPs! Next door you'll find
the best slabbing at Araps, Brolga 100m grade 16, and for the
beginners the classic romp of "Arachnus" 105m grade 9.
Bring a water bottle! This face bakes in the summer sun.
The Northern Group
Further up the valley from the
Watchtower you'll find yourself in the Northern Group. Among other
routes, this area is home to the infamous roof climb "Kachoong"
25m grade 21, which has been photographed so many times it's likely
to be growing vain. This route fills the dreams of Arapiles regulars
and is well worth braving committing moves. It's grade 18 until
you're on the roof. For something far easier checkout
"Harlequin Cracks", the 80m grade 10 which is fine outing.
||The Far Northern Group
Climbers take on the hike to this area mainly to tick
the classics "Entertainer" 35m grade 18 and "Comic
Relief" 25m grade 21, both of which reside close together on
the lower Curtain Wall. It's not that far to walk really.
Over the road to the north you'll find this gem of an
outcrop standing on it's own like a mini Araps. It's a popular place
for beginners with a wealth of easier climbs, but also houses some
short but hard routes. The all time classic beginners intro to Araps
is "Exodus" 36m grade 6, which has basically become THE
first time leaders route. There's plenty of easy stuff to top rope
in the Deacons Dilemma area, and "Prelate" grade 17 is
even worth leading. Over on the south face you'll find Serpent 43m
grade 11, which is the perfect line to tow your beginners up, though
there's a weird little traverse on the top out. "Acapulco
Gold" the short 19 nearby draws attension. Do not, what ever
you do, be conned into leading "Beelzebub" 27m grade 17 -
it's got that name for a reason.
Guide Books Available
Get yourself a copy of "Arapiles
Selected Climbs", the guide book authored by Simon Mentz and
Glenn Tempest. It gives you the cream of the crop from all Arapiles areas. Alternatively consider the following, most of which are available
from local climbing shops or the VCC....
Glenn Tempest (1999)
Rockclimbers Guide to Arapiles/Djurite
Louise Shepherd (1994)
Selected Climbs - Guide book authored by Simon Mentz & Glenn
Tempest, and available from local climbing shops, or the VCC.
*Arapiles.com - When you're pinning
for the pines campground. Links to other Australian sites.
Arapiles.net - Run by climbers, info
on new routes, local shops/resources, etc. Has a small magazine. Details
on the Arapiles Mountain Shop, which do shoe resoling - very handy!
- From RockClimbing.com's web site. Just a very brief intro page.
Microguide - A few pages from Planet Fear web site.
Adventure Plus - A
guiding service founded by Brigitte and John Muir, operating out of
Natimuk they primarily offer guided Arapiles climbing.
Page - Detailed descriptions of many routes.
Ben's Victoria - Brief intro to Arapiles, from a non-climbing perspective.
NZ - Their page on Mt Arapiles. Just an brief intro page.
- This page shows a map of the Arapiles climbing locations. It's been
ripped from the Arapiles Selected Climbs guide book.
Arapiles, Tooan State Park - Park's Victoria's page on Arapiles.
Company - Guided climbing at Arapiles. Founded by Louise Shepherd and
The Spectacular Mt
Arapiles - Page from "Where To Stay" web site.
Grampians Little Desert
- Tourist Info for Grampians / Arapiles region.
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