MELBOURNE—When driving through the flat and scenically monotonous Wimmera plains, Mt Arapiles stands tall on the horizon like a noble castle. Once arriving there, one thing is apparent, people come to this location specifically to climb. The camping site is filled with keen tourists from all over the world and is more than a location, it’s a community. Geared up with their gortex and micro fibre fleece, climbers don rope, a belt full of clanging metal and sheepish smiles, explore the cliff face for potential climbing challenges or “problems”, to speak the lingo.
The reason Mt Arapiles is such a hot spot is that few places in the world offer such a plethora of climbing in the one location. You don’t have to trek hours along over-grown goat tracks to access good climbing, it all happens just a stone’s throw away from the campground and picnic area.
Quality rock, breathtaking views, friendly and a relaxed campsite are just a few features of this world-class, premier climbing destination, situated 4 hours drive north-west of Melbourne.
When sauntering around the orange coloured cliffs, which are reminiscent of Uluru, I see potential lines up the rock everywhere, including beautiful cracks, overhangs and spectacular pinnacles. Ropes and chalk hand-prints give a clue that there are climbers about; when I squint I can just make out the miniature figures as high as 230 meters above us. Bolts can also be spotted high up on the cliff face, but most of the climbs will require that people climb the traditional way, use their own cam devices or friends.
When passing another group of climbers, the conversation repeats itself over again—What have you climbed today? Is it good? When did you arrive? Where are you from? etc.
A Bit of Everything
Simon Mentz, an experienced rock climber and co-author of Arapiles Selected Climbs and Grampians Selected Climbs, knows the area well. Moving to nearby village Natimuk 20 years ago from Melbourne, Simon has made this rural town his home base, essentially to be closer to this prime climbing spot, which includes the nearby Grampians range and also to be involved in the active climbing community here.
“Every climbing spot in Australia has its own appeal, every area is unique and has it’s own beauty, but Mt Arapiles has a bit of everything. It has fantastic easy climbs, very hard climbs and bouldering, not to mention half-decent weather. There are short and long climbs, and good rock—there aren’t many places in the world that have high concentrations of these things in the one area” said Simon.
“I’ve climbed in just about all the main climbing areas in Australia and the routes at Mt Arapiles are very good. It’s like God had created it to be climbed. I often think … how good is it?” said Simon.
There are many difficult climbs, but if you are a climbing novice and would prefer to be dragged up the cliff to take in the views, then there are a few climbing guide companies based nearby. If you want to learn the skills to be more self-sufficient, then these guides also give lessons or another option is to tag along with the Victorian Climbing Association and meet new friends.
The best time to visit Mt Arapiles is in the autumn or spring months, when wild flowers abound and are a spectacular sight. The weather is also at its mildest then, as summer can get amazingly hot and winter is generally wet. Long weekends, especially the Easter break, can get over-crowded at the camp ground, but generally it is a very accommodating place, filled with friendly backpackers and well-facilitated amenities. If climbing isn’t your cup of tea, but you don’t want to miss the views from the top, then there are also a couple of short but steep walking trails from the campsite, which take you up to the summit.
Mt Arapiles has been deemed as “The heart and soul of Australian traditional climbing.” With well over 2000 quality-climbing routes and boulders crammed into a relatively small area, you can begin to feel a bit spoilt for choice.