Actually Very Scary

Arapiles – day 8

I don’t usually have moments of terror while climbing. Heights don’t make my head swim. Exposure is pretty fine. I do find leading scary, but it’s in a controlled manner of heightened risk awareness – I mostly lead miles below my grade. Speedy probably sees this as a sign of my innate laziness as a climber. He hasn’t stopped pushing himself to his limits since he was a kid, and he’s an incredibly good technical climber. I just mosey along, enjoying the experience, the view, the thrill, usually from the safety of seconding, and with an eye to writing amusingly about it later. 

Occasionally though, the universe decides that it’s time to shake, rattle, and roll. 

The climb was Xena. D and Speedy had done it earlier in the trip, singing its virtues. Heck, I’d done it (second) on a previous trip, and really enjoyed it. Off D trots, and finds that it’s not as fun as he remembers: he’s feeling a bit feverish, and is having trouble remembering sections of the route. He is, in common parlance, off-color. 

#14 is the route. Image from Arapiles: Selected Climbs by Simon Mentz & Glenn Tempest

I volunteer to lead the next pitch. We’ve left the guide at home, so I generally follow the line of the cliff till I reach a large, comfortable ledge. Pretty sure that this is the end of my pitch. I’ll forge on a bit higher towards the Eagles Nest. I can see it above me in distance. But: left or right? Right looks better trodden. Left looks more straightforward. I decide. Left. 

Very soon, the universe will tell me that this was a mistake. I move on up, into the shady cleft below the belay ledge down and to the right of Eagle’s Eyrie. Here’s a close up:


Same credits apply. You guys are incredible. 

It looked ok. A bit thin, but decent handholds and a straightforward, somewhat thin run to the finish. I went up a meter or so, and fiddled around. Placed a purple nut. Moved up again, scoped out my handholds. The big block sticking out to my left was detached. Hollow thunking when I rapped it with my knuckles.  Stepped up level with it. Good left foothold. Ok right. Looked up. Put my right hand on a column of rock and pulled to move up…

…it collapsed under my hand. Suddenly I wasn’t climbing. I was balanced on my feet, juggling two huge pieces of detached rock, pressing the enormous base to the wall, and watching the face-sized top fragment wobble on top. 

Stop. 

Stop. 

“Rock!” I shouted, as a general warning. “Roooooocckk!”

Looked down. Purple nut a meter below me. Next runner around that corner, make it five meters away. On the ledge I’d decided to leave. Tiptoe Ridge off the left. Possibly many people on the ground or the wall beneath. My rope beneath. My belayer, D, beneath. I couldn’t let them go. In my favor: solid feet. Looking around for a solution. The top of the detached block was flat. 

In moments of stress, I talk to myself. 

“Ok. Across…”

I let go of the cliff face with my left hand, lean forwards, and reach across to stone #1.  Super static. Rock #1 moved across. I sit it down sooooo carefully. Then grab the cliff again. That’s the easy one. It probably only weighed a kilo. 

Problem. I can’t lift Rock #2 one handed. I try. It’s as long as my forearm from elbow to knuckles, and I can’t close my hand around it. It’s the rough shape around as a 2L milk bottle. I’m pushing it, open handed, against the cliff face. It is too heavy to lift. It’s too big to let go

Which means I have to let go. I release my left hand hold, and reach across. Grasping the stone two handed, it’s easy to manage. I move ever so slowly, feeling for a (terminal? Dangerous?) change in my balance, and ease it in front of me across to the detached block. Once settled, I can use my left hand to lift Rock #1, and gently lay #2 down, before replacing #1. That done, I give myself permission to hyperventilate for five seconds. Then stop, and check the rocks again. They are as stable as I can make them. The thought of them smashing down the cliff onto someone makes me sick. Can I down climb and remove the purple nut so that D can bypass this horrible fornicating gully? No. 

I climb the remaining 3m, testing every hold before I weight it. And then spend 20 minutes setting up the most bomb proof belay you’ve ever seen on the ledge above. D comes up, warned about the gully and block.

“Your placements were shit. Good climbing through bad terrain on bad gear.”

I die. 

After that, D leads the final pitch. I have to use my nut tool to free three of my four belay placements, one of them a cam. 

What happened next?

We walked down to the car. All four of us went for lunch at the Natimuk Cafe. Climbed Eskimo Nell, while Speedy and Triumphant went up Dunes. Had a lovely afternoon.

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Cold Comfort Climbing 

Arapiles – day 7 

It was cold and grey this morning. And windy. Ugh! Even though it was Saturday, we all stayed snuggled down in bed, letting the climbs go to early morning pilgrims camped in The Pines. 

Out we tromped, faithful minions to the Great Crag, up to the Pharos walk down gully. D had some climbs he wanted to play with out there in a narrow gully – a crack in eons old boulders. 

D led The Only Way to Fly. I pulled on the first hold and decided it wasn’t for me, steep and awkward. Stuck to belaying. 

Speedy and Triumphant went up Gwen, a 9. Convenient chains on the further side of our gulch allowed top roping of a 19.


Paper daisy buds

I got encouraged to lead Gwen: I must confess that I’m not the most gracious of climbers when uncomfortable. I grumped my way up it (D is an angel for putting up with me), and detoured off to the left prior to the finish to reach the chains. It was a great route, so I’m glad D and Speedy kept suggesting it. 


Courtesy of Triumphant

Stayed in the cabin with Triumphant after lunch – the cold weather was making my throat hurt again, so I decided writing was the better part of valor. 

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Tiptoeing

Arapiles – day 6

It had been decided that I should lead Triumphant up a multi pitch, while Speedy and D ran off to enact their higher-grade adventures. To be honest, I normally avoid leading. If Speedy and D are Tiggers, bounding their way joyously from exploit to exploit, I am the Piglet of lead climbing. Slow, cautious, and occasionally terrified. I have previously retreated from a grade 9 lead at Bushrangers Bluff (though Arapiles grades are notoriously flexible in their interpretation and allocation of difficulty ratings).

One can only elude one’s fate for so long. I decided on Introductory Route, the first climb established at Arapiles, back in the dark ages when ropes were made of natural fibers, and protection consisted of praying really hard. Ask Speedy, he was around then! 

When we got there, unfortunately, a large university group was winding its way up the cliffs. With a three person team on Introductory Route, I decided a change of plans was in order. We trekked around the base of the outcrop of cliff to Tiptoe Ridge. It was a surprisingly low-stress lead. I know, it is only a grade 5 (think challenging stepladder), but I was a bit nervous about leading a long multi pitch. It went smoothly. I spaced out my placements to reduce rope drag, and soon found myself topping out on the iconic pinnacle on pitch 2. Triumphant came up, retrieving my gear as she went. I enjoyed the opportunity to eavesdrop on the lead two of the three-person team on Introductory Route, who were belaying just past me (the cliff becomes a bottleneck at this point, where several climbs intersect and follow the same final pitches). It was nice to listen in on – they were talking about sports, and how climbing isn’t a “man’s sport” or a “woman’s sport”, it’s simply climbing. The conversation meandered very positively in this vein, drilling down into predispositions and experience etc. It probably says more about me (and how much time I spend online seeing how foul people can be) than it does about them, but I was surprised and pleased.  They are way more woke than I was at their age. 

They very nicely let us go ahead of their three person team – their lead climber was uncertain of the next pitch, and was happy to score some beta. So I moved well up that, pleased with my placements and general demeanor, until I topped out. Fantastique. 


The view from the summit. 

Afternoon: D and I struggled up Phoenix in the wind. Left behind a #6 nut, which harrowed my soul to do, but the little illegitimate was stuck fair and square. The cliffs giveth, and the cliffs taketh away. 

Triumphant and Speedy ascended The Eighth. 

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Rest Day, Grampians 

Arapiles – day 5

In keeping with many climbing “rest days”, our rest day was not about relaxation. Rather, it’s a chance to let one’s fingers recover, while exercising the “rest” of the body. 

After breakfast, we hopped in the car, piloted by Speedy, and headed for the Grampians, another major climbing area, albeit inferior to Araps (sports climbers’ opinions may differ). There was some trouble in paradise between the two backseat navigators, D and myself, but claypot roads aside, we eventually parked safely in the Mount Zero car park. Our destination: Hollow Mountain Cave.

Detour first to Summer Day Valley, where the beautiful fluted cliffs were clotted with the overflow of school outdoor education groups. It’s lacking in altruism, but when I’m being an entitled tourist on my one climbing holiday of the year, I really want the blasted infants to vanish. Begone! Vamoose! Exeunt, pursued by a bear!! Get off my rock!!!

Seeing a group of nine or so kids waiting in a clump to abseil did give us a chuckle as we ascended out of the valley and towards the mountain top. 

We’ve climbed in the Grampians on previous trips, and never made it to the cave at the top of the mountain, so it’s something of a cherished goal. I quite like the Grampians themselves: they slump at beautiful angles, and the view from above is like someone sketched out a crazy labyrinth of cliffs just for climbers. 

Hollow Mountain Cave was not as impressive as we’d hoped, though the view from the summit across to Tiger Snake Wall and out to the further stretches of the range is lovely. 

Stopped by a cafe in Horsham on our way home. D ordered a cake that we promptly called “The Destroyer”. I’ve never seen something so rich and inedible. Update: two days later he is still eating the thing. One slice. Good value for money. 

Climbed in the afternoon at Pilot Error Wall:

Mesa (D and I)

Neta (D and I)

Tarzan (Speedy and D)

Pilot Error (Speedy)

Only Triumphant stuck to her guns about rest days meaning no climbing. Good on her!

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Hot Spot Slot – Seeking Shade

Arapiles – day 4

Woke up better than yesterday. Cruised out to The Pines, and walked up to the Atreides, where Speedy and Triumphant went up the 3-star classic Muldoon. D and I went up Agamemnon around the corner. If the name is tickling any neglected history class grey cells, he’s the absolute heel who murdered his own daughter Iphigenia as a sacrifice so that the Grecian fleet could set sail to Troy, in pursuit of his brother Menelaus’ absconded wife, Helen. He later took the captive prophetess and Trojan princess Cassandra as his sex slave following the fall of Troy. She accurately predicted his death, which he ignored. Happily he got murdered by his wife Clytaemnestra in the bathtub with an axe when he arrived home, for what he did to her daughter (and also so that she could marry the lover she had met in the 10 years of the Greeks’ absence). Unhappily, Cassandra met the same axe-murderous fate. 

Satisfyingly, there’s an entire wall (i.e., collection of climbs) here called Cassandra wall, so take that as some long-overdue oneupwomanship. 

The climb is far more awesome than its poxy namesake legend. A towering chimney, leading up to bright sky and a beautiful sense of exposure as, one hand and foot on each wall, one looks down to the ground and out across the plains. 


As I was busy belaying D, and later climbing, Speedy gets the honor of demonstrating stemming out between the towering walls of Agamemnon. 

I missed out doing Agamemnon a few years back, playing photographer to D and Rocket on a shoulder-injury rest day, so it was extremely satisfying to finally get up it. 


Fleeing the sun and its attendant heat, D and I trekked across the valley up to the Preludes Wall, which has shade for most of the day. 

Up the grade 18 (not really, it’s a 13, much to Speedy and D’s chagrin) Stalagtite, which put us onto the ledge where, and I do agree that the classical references are coming thick and fast, the Pillars of Hercules stand. Trotted along the pillars to the rings at the top of the first pitch of Transylvania, where we met Speedy and Triumphant completing P1. Somehow Triumphant managed to tear a nasty flap of skin off on her finger. Ouch. D and I took a detour skywards to complete the second pitch, by which time it was around 2pm, and climbers had descended upon the shade of Preludes Wall like possums on an unprotected food bag. 


The Pillars of Hercules

Post-3pm lunch, D and I made a supply run into Horsham. By Demeter, I forget how much four adults can eat! We’re chomping through it. 

D and Speedy are currently headed out at 6pm to do some final climbs. I looked at the car thermometer reading 32 degrees C on the drive back to base, and firmly declined the offer of another sweaty thrash up cliffs. We’re due for some rain overnight, so hopefully the temperatures will cool off for our hike in the Grampians up to Hollow Mountain Cave. 

Fail of the day: the seam seal on my waterproof Platypus backpack (which I’ve been toting up each climb) has started to delaminate. Luckily the parentals dealt with this problem in South America, and diagnose a super glue repair. 

Win of the day: feeling worlds better. Arapiles in spring is beautiful. Lots of shingle back lizards about in the sun, with amputated-looking tails and shiny black eyes. Good fun climbing. 

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Falcon Watch, Morning Off 

Arapiles Day 3 – morning

Following our misadventures, D found the following resource on Places To Avoid Due To Falcons. Clever dicks us, we landed smack bang in the middle of two of them. 

So if you’re following this with an eye to climbing in the area in spring, cast your starry skies over this page:

FalconWatch
We are wiser, and more sorrowful. 

Pluses: D is cooking breakfast. Loot is still loot and it’s mine, Precious. 

Minuses: woke up with a vengeful sore throat (again). The hot water at the cabins got shut off due to malfunction yesterday. Hoping it’s fixed by the time we return. Cold showers are in direct contravention of the Geneva Convention. But then, as the persnickety amongst us will point out, we’re volunteers, not POWs. 

Later: 

Feeling unwell, so I’m having the morning off, which is disappointing on many levels (I’m on holiday, damn it; sense of self-efficacy; I thought I was much better). I have a task to focus on, though, which is my brother wants me to write a script. An entertaining prospect. 

First, a snooze. 


1. The Pharos, from their less imposing side. Will take a better photo soon. 

2. Some of the vibrant seed pods. I fantasise that if they were edible, they’d taste like Shiraz, and raspberries, and dark chocolate. And lime. 

What they probably taste like is crunch, and milky grass, and a mild dose of indigestion. 


3. Speedy abseiling off the back of The Pharos. I had the pleasure of being the first down, so I got to sit and take photos of the rest of the team descending. 

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Piracy on the High Pharos

A short one today, but my tale, me hearties, be rich in loot. 

Weather due hot. Headed out early to the Pharos, an incredibly imposing Rameses-esque massif which stands by itself in front of the main cliff. Forgot to take a photo as I’ve done so often before, so you’ll have to take my word for it. Envision a seated figure, Egyptian in style, which rises from the gentle slope to survey the countryside in remote disdain. At this time of year, the Pharos’ torso bears the streaks of many nesting sites, so we decided to launch an assault from the right flank. D and I commenced up new terrain to Spiral Staircase (the proper start as we’ve done it before is a nasty, thrutchy ramp), while Speedy and Triumphant started The Shroud. 

Beautiful climbing. Met up with our co-climbers on the “tennis court”, a large flat section probably around clavicle height. Fun moves up the bottleneck to another step across (sadly little reaction from Triumphant, but she has seasoned well after yesterday’s glorious outing on Guiding Light), and up to the crown. D sent me up to scout out the way to our rappel point – we did do this one with Rocket a few years ago, so the territory was familiar. 


Me, just below the final section, and Speedy, belaying Triumphant. Photo credit to D. 

And then… it happened. I found an offering to the goddesses of sky and stone, nay, to the Great Gecko itself, S/He who licks His/Her eyeballs. I found… loot. From what I can surmise, someone failed to properly clip on a large hex, complete with sling and karabiner. It lay there, a shining promise in the glaring sun. 


View from the top of the bluff. 

Finders keepers, as they say. It’s mine. And if you (O Misfortunate of Mortals) find this entry and wish to reclaim it, I shall require Most Diverse Proofs of its history with you. Right now it looks very nice on my rack. 
Not much for the rest of the day; we abseiling out the uh… back… of The Pharos (positioned appropriately for voiding climbers), trundled down to the car, and lunched in the pines. Hot, with a nice breeze. As I’m still hacking like an ex-smoker after my recent flu, Triumphant and I decided to head into Horsham to resupply, while D and Speedy went off to tackle some shady bluffs near the Pillars of Hercules. 

Looking for a pub dinner, if it’s open on a Monday. 

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