Location: Arapiles National Park, Victoria
With Christmas a faded memory in my mind, and the new year already kicked into full gear, I was lucky to end 2015 and start 2016 with a climbing trip away. Last year Siu On and I spent two unsuccessful weeks in the Grampians National Park, with our hopes and dreams of climbing all and every day literally washed away with unseasonably bad weather, freezing temperates and torrential rain, we thought we’d never return to this part of Victoria! However, with a friend heading out that way, Siu On on leave over the holiday period and I had just quit a stressful job, a return to Victoria didn’t look so bad after all. So after a long 13 hour drive from Sydney (or a five hour drive north west of Melbourne) we found ourselves laden with cams and nuts staring up at some incredible rock formations in the Arapiles National Park.
Let’s get one thing clear, you’re not coming to the Arapiles for birdwatching or hiking because that’s what you go to the Grampians to do! You come here for Australia’s best traditional climbing, and believe me, you won’t get bored or run out of climbs. The best thing about the Arapiles is that there is climbing here all year around, even in the winter time since the bad weather that usually hits the Grampians, usually just hits the Grampians! It’s generally very dry here and you can always find climbs that are shaded at certain times of the day, and sheltered from the elements even on the odd occasion that it does rain.
In addition to the amazing trad climbing there are also a lot of boulders scattered around that can be fun and challenging, and will help break your climbing trip up a little or offer a good rest day activity. Whilst you’re here you should also have a go at the ‘Squeeze Test’, a large crack in a boulder that many climbers have been initiated through; a word of warning though, I don’t recommend doing it if you are “gifted” in the girth department, scared of tight spaces, drunk or on drugs because people have gotten stuck doing it.
I can’t even begin to put together a list of climbs to recommend doing at Mt Arapiles, so if you’re coming here for a long trip then definitely pick up a guide book or check out what’s on offer on the Crag and get that tick list together! And don’t forget to bring your rack…
There are a three areas that are open for campers, with the most popular being the Pines campground (which is sort of like Yosemite’s Camp 4 equivalent for climbers), and then you have the Lower and Upper Gums campsites. I found that the Upper Gums campsite location was halfway between the Organ Pipes and the Bard climbing areas, was lot quieter than the other sites and also had a more even surface to put the tent up on so was a winner for me. All camp areas have communal fire rings for you to use, and there are also toilets near all three sites (both flushing and drop toilets) and a simple camp kitchen and a pay phone located near the entrance of the park. Lastly, make sure you bring enough fresh water for the duration of your trip because there is no potable drinking water at the campgrounds, and Horsham’s water is an “acquired” taste, but you can alway stock up on water in Horsham at the supermarket of course.
There were signs up on the toilet blocks indicating that sites needed to be paid for in advance, however we were unaware of this before we arrived and the ranger never asked (mind you we only ever saw him once when he came round to inform us of the total fire ban), so we ended up making a donation to the local crag care box to account for the duration of our stay.
Be aware that like many parts of Australia, there are strict fire rules that are in place over the summer season, and during our recent trip over the New Years a total fire ban was put in place as temperatures hit 41 degrees! This means no open flame whatsoever and the ranger will come around and check, however, if you head over to Horsham there are lots of food choices and free public BBQ facilities by the Wimmera River and near the Botanic Gardens which are also free to use.
The Arapiles isn’t the biggest national park and if you’re mobile you can head into the nearest towns for a break or to stock up on anything you may need.
At only a 30 minute drive away from the Arapiles, Horsham is the largest town in the Wimmera and if you need anything you’ll be able to find it here. There are large shopping areas (including Woolworths, Coles and Aldi), petrol stations, pubs, cafes and restaurants as well as a large outdoor store and everything else you can imagine. There isn’t a huge amount to see and do here, however the river is nice for a dip in on a hot day and there is also a swimming pool to rest your tired muscles in (and take a hot shower too!).
The closest town to the Arapiles National Park is one of those ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ kind of places, but with it’s long history (it was originally the largest town in the area until the new train line passed through Horsham) and beautiful old buildings, is still charming little town that populated by the who’s who of Victorian the climbing community. There aren’t a lot of amenities here, but there is a milk bar (that sells more than just milk but is good if you do run out of milk) and the Natimuk Cafe that’s open sometimes (though not while we were here) and the most amazing little climbing shop I’ve ever been to that sells everything rock climbing -and they do resoles too.
And if you do want a break from the Arapiles then the Grampians isn’t that far away, and does offer a change in scenery. There are tonnes of bouldering and sport climbing routes if you want a break from trad climbing, or you can go on some hikes and hang out in Halls Gap if you really want.
It was definitely a great way to end 2015 and start 2016 with a shock to the body and shed that holiday season bulge! If you’re after the best traditional climbing in Australia then a trip to Arapiles is hard to beat, and there is definitely enough in the area to keep you busy for more than a few months. The community at the campgrounds is also great with many climbers coming and going and all bringing with them a great sense of humor and camaraderie; so if you’re on your own and in need of a climbing buddy then you shouldn’t have too many problems finding one here. I’m hoping this is the start of many trip to the Arapiles and a sign of more trad climbing for the year!
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Photography by Jelena Stipanicev.