The long weekend offered promise of good weather and great company amidst the atmospheric pines campground of Mt Arapiles, and it delivered all this and more. Though the days were hot and dry, we managed to tick a variety of quality routes.
First up was Saracen 114m Grade 16 on Central Gully Right, nestled between Eskimo Nell, and Preludes Wall. Saracen, pictured right, proved to be a delight to climb. The first pitch goes at grade 15, and requires some tricky moves on a small roof fairly early on (pictured left), after which the line meanders left and and right again to gain a nice belay ledge (pictured right). The second pitch contains the crux moves. It leaves the belay ledge from the left, up a short crack before traversing right into the crux section, a crack (indicated on picture) that you can face climb. A bit of slabbing leads to a massive ledge at the pseudo top, then a final, 3rd pitch (not pictured) will polish off the last few metres. Protection abounds, even on the crux, and the climbing is superb, apart from a bit of shrubbery that plagues portions of the first pitch. You top out at the same point as Eskimo Nell, and can descend via the walk off down the central gully tourist track. A recommended outing.
Above Right: Saracen 114m Grade 16. Above Left: Peter leading the first pitch of Saracen. Left: Pitch one of Oceaniod, 45m Grade 17, the route sits under the monster overhang on the front of the Pharos and is protected from the rain. Pitch 2 is optional making the whole route 75m. Below Right: Me launching into the crux of Oceaniod, note the nut placement.
Next route of the trip we took on pitch one of "Oceaniod", 45m, grade 17, the extremely attractive line leading up the front of the Pharos. I'd lead this one once before and was freaked by the intimidating roof crux. Whilst I managed a clean onsight, I'd been wanting to return and lead it again in an effort to determine whether my previous difficulties were indeed all psychological. This theory proved correct. The crux mini-roof, with its masses of chalked up slide pull slopers (see picture above right), lack of foot holds and less than obvious protection must have fuelled my fears. Leading it for a second time, with the unknown no longer a mystery, the crux proved easy enough to despatch. It's protectable if you reach up high before committing and slot a nut (#5 wallnut size, see picture above right), underneath the mini-roof. Laybacking on a big, sharp edge tooth-like hold, the chalk seems to lure you high into crimps and finger locks, but if you resist and let your weight sit low, there's a big horn that can be utilised making the moves that much easier. Watch the video clip (2 Meg, 33 seconds), though I apologise for the shaky camera work, I handed the camcorder to someone who hadn't used it before.
One great thing about this line is that a huge roof the size of double car garage (which you ultimately traverse around) covers the whole first pitch causing the route to be sheltered from the rain and the sun. An excellent line to reserve for a rainy day.
For a hot curry, we dined at the Bagdad Cafe in Horsham the eve of the first night, then returned to camp site for much needed sleep. In the morn, some of the team headed off to Bush Ranger Bluff, but Ben and I decided to take on some 18's. We hit "XI" first up, the 30m grade 18 on the left of Fang Buttress, behind the Plaque block. XI is a superb climb, well worth braving the first few moves that can only be protected with RPs. Really, it doesn't get difficult until you're committed to the crack above. Evidence of bolts that have been chopped exists, which is fair enough in my opinion - it's a trad line. When the crack starts to disappear, traverse right on good holds (small aliens will go in a horizontal crack here), then storm the pumpy finish on jugs.
On our day the wind was howling a gale, threatening to pluck us off the wall and making communications near impossible. We debated what to do next, thinking maybe wind would be less elsewhere, but we stuck to our plan and headed over to Eurydice. It proved a good call.
Above Right: "XI" single pitch grade 18 on Fang Buttress is a pumpy but rewarding line. Left: Eurydice, 70m grade 18 runs up the Plaque side of Bard Buttress and is a hoot of a climb.
Eurydice, the 70m, 2 pitch grade 18, was an excellent choice. I'd lead it once before and offered to take the first pitch, which is slightly more consistent for the grade. There are definitely grade 18 moves to overcome, but with good pro and lots of rest stances this is a low stress 18. A real adventure climb, rather than a sporty line.
There's a rusty bolt on the first pitch at one cruxy section fairly early on (so bring a bolt plate), but the real fun is topping out of P1 to the belay ledge. Here you'll find a rusty piton, at least one fixed hex, and perhaps on old sling or two. However, the moves are more psychological than physical. Gaining the belay ledge there's another rusty piton, but good pro exists for the belay.
Right: Me leading P1 of Eurydice, and me belaying a top same. Watch the video clip (2.7 Meg, 43 seconds).
Ben romped up the 2nd pitch, giving us a thoroughly rewarding tick. The opening moves of pitch 2 are the crux, so get some good gear in right off the bat. The grade then eases off with another tricky section before a cruise finish up onto the enormous party ledge. From here you can "walk" off left (read very careful solo) and join Ali's decent via a short, but potentially dangerous downclimb. Alternatively you could fly up the last pitch of the Bard, and descend down Ali's that way.
We were pretty shagged out from the heat at this stage so when the gang reformed there was mutual interest in a drive to the lake at Toolondo for a swim and a barbeque tea. Arh, such optimistic grins shone forth upon the faces of our gleeful band. With a quick stop for icy- poles, we hit the lake, rushing out onto the white sandy beach to encounter.... nothing. Or more specifically the complete and total lack of the glorious swimming we had anticipated. In it's stead lay a puddle with knee deep black mud, rotting weed, and the claw like talons of dead trees rising up out of the murky depths to pierce our disillusioned souls.
Through a combination of desperation and mutual competitiveness our intrepid explorers waded out into the inky swill, like pilgrims blindly searching for a salvation that was not to be found. The shallow muck got no deeper than waist high. Not to be deterred we washed off the stink under the picnic ground taps and proceeded to cook up a feast. Good food and good company soon replenished our spirits, and we return to Araps late at night dreaming of the morrow's climbs.
Left: The white beach and lack of water at Lake Toolondo. If you want a swim in the late summer, this is not the place to go. Above Right: The dilapidated Toolondo general store, sporting it's "Keep Out" sign, definitely not open for business. Below Right: Me leading Death Row the intimating 45m grade 18 near the Pharos. If you onsight this grade I suggest you give it a lash, because it's not as bad as it looks.
Said morrow found us debating which line to pick. I had often eyed Death Row, the 45m grade 18 on Death Row Pinnacle just left of the Pharos, but had thus far been intimidated by the look of it's mini-roof. A general consensus opted that I should lead it. (Thanks guys). The roof is described in the guide as "the infamous condemned cell" and "the bottomless sentry box". It looks hellishly impressive from the ground. A chalked up cave with three walls and a roof, but no floor. I geared up nervously, but the expected flailing was not to occur. The line went smoothly, almost too smoothly and I was shortly on the top. However a quick look at the gear I'd placed (15 pieces in the first 30 metres), gave silent testimony to my expectation for trouble.
A manky sling can be clipped before launching into the roof. A wild stem out of the cave (pictured left) gains bomber jugs from which better protection can be placed. The fun actually starts directly after this, as you commit to the face and try to move up. I'd call this part the crux, though there are a couple of other sections that demand your attention, notably a layback crack under a tiny overhang about halfway up, and a thin crack towards the top. The last 10 metres or so are a cruise. You can abseil off some slings at the rear left of the block, or brave the grade 5 downclimb.
We ended the trip after lunch. All up a very enjoyable weekend, made all the more so by the nine of us sharing each others company.
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