Mount Arapiles the trad climbing capital of Australia. If you are a climber planning to make a trip down under to experience Arapiles, you better be trad climbing.
Like many city dwellers, I am a sport climber (the gym climbing type). I do have experience in climbing outdoor sport and multi-pitch routes. But never have I place a piece of trad gear let alone a piece that will catch my fall. Well, there is always a first time just make sure it ain’t the last.
To get ready for your first trad climb one should do some homework. So without any trad gears or means to practice all I can do is to have a healthy dose of YouTube videos on how to place trad gears and hope that I’m a fast learner when I get to Arapiles.
Getting to Arapiles
Mount Arapiles is in the state of Victoria. You can fly to Melbourne and drive to Arapiles, alternately you can also drive from Adelaide (the capital city of South Australia) which takes slightly longer. Either direction takes around 4 to 5 hours.
Natimuk is the town closest to Arapiles just 10 km away. It is a small town with simple amenities. You can find great accommodation via Airbnb or book a cabin accommodation through Natimuk Hotel.
If a small town is not your thing. You can stay in Horsham the regional city where there are supermarkets, malls, pubs, and cafes.
However, if you prefer to go real dirtbag style. You can choose to camp at Arapiles campground which will cost you a small camping fee and save you heaps as you can just walk to the crag.
To camp at Arapiles, you’ll need to register with the Parks Victoria website. If camping is too much work you can choose to sleep in your car.
Friends from down under
Having friends who are climbers living in Natimuk is just great. Save me a shit load of time on research by having them as my guide at Arapiles. But most important of all, I get to climb trad for the first time without the need to invest in a trad rack of my own. All gears are provided for, all I brought with me on this climbing trip were my personal gears.
Trad Climbing Lesson Aussie Style
I’ve done 1 multi-pitch trad climb in Arapiles back in 2006. I did not lead but second the entire climb. That means I had never placed a piece of trad gear before. But in the true Aussie “no worries” culture, the best way to learn trad is to do it yourself. 15 minutes of instruction on the different types of trad gears and how to look for placement follow by another 15 minutes of ground practice and you are ready to go.
For sport climbing, you’ll literally know how many pieces of gears you need to bring. Sport climbing is mainly face climbing and the way up the route is clearly marked by the line of bolts leading to the anchor. It is common for sport climbers to climb with pre-placed quickdraws (pink pointing). However, trad climbing is a whole different ball game.
Trad climbing – logistic
Racking up for trad climb is a test of your rock climbing knowledge, skill, and also how ballsy you are. Lacking in anyone you’ll really need to compensate with the other 2. The number of trad gears you choose to bring is totally dependent on how safe you want to feel on the climb. A simple way to put it, more gears will make you feel safer. But more gears will weigh you down and tire you out making the climb harder which will increase your chance of falling. So gearing up for trad climbing is really a test of your decision-making skill.
Trad climbing – Gear placement
Trad gears are expensive… really expensive. Unless you are Alex Honnold you’ll probably need more than a handful of trad gears. Placing a piece of gear into the natural cracks or grooves in the rock face requires lots of trial and error. If you are good you’ll get the right size piece on the first go. If you are not good but lucky you’ll get the right size piece after 2 to 3 tries. However, if you are not good and tend to be unlucky you’ll be fiddling through your entire rack and not find the right size piece for several minutes. You’ll start to panic as your arms get pumped and you know rest.
Trad climbing – Route finding
Route finding is a key part of trad climbing. It is easy to see where the route goes if you are looking at it from a distance. But not the case when you are climbing. Having to focus on the climb, placing gears, and managing rope drag the last thing on your mind is if you are on the right line. Going off-route can have serious consequences which will really put your rock climbing skills and knowledge to the test.
Virgin trad climber
There is always a first time for everything. It is good if your first time leaves you with good memory and not a nightmare. Hence an extremely easy route way way under your onsight grade is a good start for your first trad experience.
Armed with a shit load of gears that I had just made acquaintance with 15 minutes ago and I am on my way. Me climbing with my new “friends” that I hardly know are going to save my life if I fall… Nice. The route that I trad climb to gently break my virginity is on the first pitch (30m) of Yoyo (a multi-pitch climb consisting of 5 pitches) at Tiger wall.
Stitching up the route
I had to remind myself that I am not here to do projects or to test my climbing limits. I am here for one sole purpose… To put in as many pieces of trad gear as I can on a single pitch. I learned a new climbing term “stitch-up” the route. So as the term implies is to put in as many pieces of gear as possible to make the route safe. So that’s what I did. The good thing about climbing an easy route in Arapiles is, that there are numerous rest points where you can literally go hands-free. You can use both hands to place gears and if you fuck it up on your 10th attempt in finding the right piece at less you’ll still be on the wall.
Up the stakes
Trad climb for the first time checked… Feeling pretty good about myself. However, it is not something to brag about. The route is graded 13 or 4+ for French grading. With a boost in confidence, I was recommended to attempt pitch 1 of Kaiser 38 meters grade 15 or 5+. Just a grade harder shouldn’t be much of a concern. However, just a few meters up I realize it is not the climb that is harder but the difficulty of finding gear placement and route finding. The line from the ground looks obvious going straight up lean left and making a hard right to the anchor. Unfortunately, when you are on the face fiddling with your trad gear you’ll start to lose focus and deviate from the route. Rectifying your course on a trad route is unlike sport climbing especially if the route isn’t straight up. Rope drag is amplified as I mostly have short draws with me.
On one hand, you are trying to get back on the correct line, on the other you need to fight the horrible rope drag, and the whole time in the back of your mind you are questioning the gears you placed.
Trad climbing is a mind game
Being a total badass gym climber does nothing to help you in trad (to make things worst I ain’t even close to being a badass gym climber). Strength can only get you so far in trad climbing before your juice runs out. Your ability to stay calm, trust your gears, and find rest is the key to becoming a half-decent trad climber.
Mount Arapiles – trad climbing paradise
During my first visit to Arapiles in 2006. I spend one entire day bouldering. An Ozzy climber who looked kinda puzzled came and told us if we come to Arapiles just to boulder is like (comment not suitable for kids) “masturbating in the whorehouse”. So after more than a decade, I did what one suppose to do in a whorehouse and I like it. I’ll definitely be experimenting with trad as there are tons of things to learn and Arapiles is an amazing place to trad climb. The quality of the rock face is rock solid no pun intended. There are numerous easy single and multipitch trad routes that are easily accessible, the locals are friendly, and alcohol is cheap. What’s not to like?
When to visit Mount Arapiles
The best time to climb outdoor in Australia will be Spring from Sep to Nov and Autumn from Mar to May. You can get up-to-date information online such as thecrag.com but nothing beats having a physical Arapiles guidebook in hand. I highly recommend that you get a guidebook from the Arapiles Mountain Shop when you are in Natimuk. Spend some money in the shop to contribute to the local climbing community. It is not hard to find the shop as it is along the main road running across Natimuk.
Arapiles Climbing Museum in Natimuk
There is an Arapiles Climbing Museum just a few meters from the Arapiles Mountain Shop and it is worth a visit. The museum is free and you’ll get to know about Australia and Arapile’s rich climbing history.
Natimuk – Nati Frinj
Once every 2 years, Natimuk will play host to the Nati Frinj festival. This is an event with food, music, visual art, and a whole host of performances that last for 3 days where the entire town will come to life.
Is trad climbing for you
Having tried trad for the first time, I’ll have to say that it is not for everyone. Trad climbing requires a lot of prep work. Is not something that many fair-weather climbers will be keen on. I reckon sport climbing to be that of a performance sport where your sole purpose is to push your climbing grade. While trad climbing is more about testing your mountaineering skills and your sense of adventure.
Yes, trad climbing is hard work and not everyone is willing to put in the effort or take the risk. But like life, you need to take a few falls and get back up and continue. But just make sure your nuts hold.