Saturday, November 29, 2014

Koalas And Lava Tubes at Mount Napier State Park

After just about suffering heat stroke walking up the Chimney Pots yesterday, we got an early start in the morning, drove south, and walked to the top of Mount Napier, an old volcano, before it got crazy hot. This is a short but moderately interesting walk as the crater is still pretty obvious and there seems to be a healthy population of koalas in the surrounding forest (we saw three).

The old crater on Mount Napier

Just a bit further south are the Byaduck Caves which are actually lava tubes with collapsed roofs. These are pretty interesting too, especially when you consider that these passages run for almost 30 km underground. The caves are formed when the roof collapses and opens up an entry into the lava tubes. One cave has an easy scramble down into the bottom and you can wander in the back where it is delightfully cool and moist. 

 Lava tube at Byaduck Caves

By lunch, we had set up for the afternoon and were doing what you do when you live in a caravan without air conditioning and the temperature is in the high 30's Celsius. You just try to survive until it cools down. 

Mount Napier Koala

Last Grampians Walk: Chimney Pots

A last hike in the Grampians on a hot day, way too hot to be walking uphill in the burning sun, but, we can be stupidly stubborn sometimes. Chimney Pots is a big many tiered rock buttress accessible off the Glenelg River Road. The track is not where marked on the topographic map, but is actually about one kilometre further east along a short spur road that parallels the Glenelg River Road. 

It all starts casually enough strolling along a good trail, crossing a dry creek and then climbing gently until you reach a junction where you can either circle Chimney Pots in a clockwise or counter clockwise direction. We went clockwise, which was really silly as we panted up the steep track in full sun and came down in shade.
Heading clockwise, you bump along the bottom of a cliff for a short distance and then climb steeply until you crest a shoulder and traverse around the north side still climbing. Another junction is reached and a short scrambly side trip leads out to a fine viewpoint on a big prow of rock just below the final cliffs of the Chimney Pots. It was interesting to see Mount Abrupt and Mount Sturgeon, both of which I had walked up from this angle and there are many interesting rock outcrops on the hillside north of Chimney Pots. 

Back at the junction, the track climbs a short distance to crest the ridge and then heads downhill through a shady, green and very pretty valley to the main track. 
 Viewpoint at Chimney Pots

Mount Sturgeon

It's always good to stop for a short walk when you are driving, so, the day after we walked the Major Mitchell Plateau, we stopped at Mount Sturgeon track on the way south. Doug sat out this walk as his bung knee from Umbrawarra Gorge was a bit tender after the long descent from Mount William. The track to Mount Sturgeon starts where indicated on the topographic map, but actually heads northwest to junction with a track that goes up Bainggug before climbing Mount Sturgeon from the north. 

My legs felt a bit heavy after the previous days walk when I started out, but, as soon as the track started gaining elevation I limbered up and made good time to the top. There are a couple of short descents before you get to the very top where you have a grand view of the eastern plains and north up the Victoria Valley. A nice diversion on a day otherwise spent driving. 

 Mount Abrupt From Mount Sturgeon

Along The Major Mitchell Plateau: Jimmy Creek to Mount William

If you are walking in the Grampians, the obvious choice for a long day walk is the Major Mitchell plateau and the track that runs from Jimmy Creek to the gated road on Mount William. I had this on my tick list of walks to do while at the Grampians, but was not expecting too much of the walk as the ridge does not have the interesting rock features of some of the other areas of the Grampians, and, I suspected the trees would be too thick to prevent views. 
Turns out I was wrong and this long walk (19 km, 1500 metres of gain from Jimmy Creek) was one of the best walks we did in the Grampians. Apparently, Victoria Parks considers this a "remote" area so you have to register out to do the walk and back in again when you finish. This is easily accomplished at the Visitor Centre, but, when questioned by the Parks staff, I glossed over the fact that I would be walking solo from one end, and my partner solo from the other. All these bureaucratic bodies get unduly concerned about people walking alone or doing other things they consider foolhardy.

If you had someone to drop you off and pick you up, the logical way to do this hike is from Mount William down to Jimmy Creek as the track is overall down-hill. Without that luxury, one of us had to endure a lot of elevation gain, and the other had to endure a lot of elevation loss. Personally, I - and my knees - would rather walk up than down but I gave Doug, who has a slightly bung knee after an adventure in Umbrawarra Gorge, the choice. Secretly, I was glad that he opted to start from Mount William leaving me to start from Jimmy Creek.

 Serra Range

The track climbs steadily from Jimmy Creek until it reaches a big gently inclined plateau where the various Wannon Creeks drain to the west. There's not much point giving a step by step breakdown of the hike as there is really only one track, and you simply follow it, mostly up, but occasionally down. At about five kilometres (roughly 1.5 hours) you reach a cleared helipad and the track joins a rough road for a short section. You can escape off to the south here down to Mafeking. Shortly after this junction, you encounter the steepest climb of the walk where the track gains about 200 metres in half a kilometre. There's also a bit of rocky scrambling here. 

The next five kilometres along to Wannon Campsite is wonderful walking along the ridge top with expansive views in all directions, but, most prominent the jagged Serra Range to the west. The bush is low scrub reminiscent of the heathland bush found along much of Australia's east coast and flat slabs of rock provide easy walking. There were masses of different coloured wildflowers blooming when we did this walk in late November. I met Doug somewhere around point 1152 metres about 45 minutes from Wannon Campsite. 

I stopped for lunch at Wannon Campsite where there are clear tent pads, an outhouse and water from Wannon Creek. A short climb out of Wannon Campsite leads to the steepest descent on the track down into Boundary Gap. This is a scrambly section of track that eases as you descend but you'll lose about 170 metres of elevation in just 300 metres. It feels like a long climb out of Boundary Gap - it's about 250 metres - and, once up the first climb, the towers on Mount William look very close. But, there are still two or three more short descents followed by slightly longer climbs until you finally reach the paved road at Mount William. Turns out that Mount William (1167 metres), or perhaps point 1167 metres south of Wannon Creek, is the high point in the Grampians, so you can feel good about completing a long walk and tagging the highest point in the Grampians. 

Apart from Doug, I didn't meet anyone until I was almost back down at the gate on the Mount William Road and that gives this walk a wonderful remote feel. If you don't mind humping an overnight pack, there are definitely worse places to spend the night than Wannon Campsite.

Back In Time For Lunch: Through The Wonderland Range

This is an easy walk that is only about 11 or 12 km long and visits a number of the highpoints (both literally and figuratively) of the Wonderland Range. Start either behind the caravan park in Halls Gap or through the Botanic Gardens, and follow the steps (many, many steps) up to Mackeys (Cherub) Peak. If you're old, you can probably blow past a few 20 and 30 somethings who are staggering along the track with shopping bags and cameras held out on poles to snap narcissistic pictures of themselves. 

In not too long, you meet the track that comes up from the Wonderland car park and the hordes of people who have managed to stagger up this way, also carrying shopping bags. I had no idea shopping bags had replaced backpacks. Stroll along the track towards Bellfield Peak. There are some good overhanging rock formations perfect for a few pull-ups or ankles to bar (rock formation) as you walk past. 

 Tower Hill

Instead of taking the shortest route down to the Sundial parking lot, you can take a slightly longer loop out to Lakeview Lookout where you may find some dubious abseiling going on. Beyond Sundial carpark, you'll leave the crowds behind as you stroll up to Sundial Peak where there is a sundial (and a view), then wander down the track passing one more lookout and following a curving ridge down to Lake Bellfield. Be back in time for lunch.

Mount Rosea Circuit From Borough Huts

Mount Rosea, at the northern end of the Serra Range is usually hiked from the old Rosea picnic ground, but, I much prefer either a through walk or a circuit walk to an out and back, so I came up with a loop walk that started from Borough Huts campground, passed over Mount Rosea and returned back to Borough Huts. Be warned, however, that this is much longer than simply walking up Mount Rosea from Rosea Turntable and includes much more elevation gain. Below are my track notes, use them at your own discretion.

There is no sign at the start or any indication in the Borough Huts campground that this walk starts there. At the west side of the campground, cross Fyans Creek (low) and follow an old road for about 175 metres heading west. Memorial Track (new sign) branches off to the right (north) and almost immediately crosses (dry) Middleton Creek. The track climbs gradually and in about a 0.5 km crosses another old road. Continue gently climbing for another 700 (horizontal) metres and cross another old road (easy to miss as it is quite overgrown). From this point on, the track begins to climb, gently at first but soon getting quite steep. In half a kilometre, you cross another old road and you could follow this old road up to meet the track higher up, but it is easily as steep as, if not steeper than the track and might be best saved for the descent. One section of track has a washout where the track all but disappears, and the track is also a bit bushy and overgrown.

Near the top of Mount Rosea

After you have gained about 200 metres, you cross the same old road again (alternate route) and the gradient eases but the track still climbs to cross one last fading old road. The track levels out a bit and begins heading more north (rather than NW) and a new track is intersected. This is called the Chislett Track on the map and it has had major work done on it and is in very good shape. It climbs gradually to Sanderson Gap and then weaves through rock formations to the top of Mount Rosea where there is a compass rose, seat and lookout. The Wonderland Range looks low from here, Mount Williams may have its head in the cloud, and the southern Serra Range looks suitably remote.

From Mount Rosea, the track descends the north ridge winding through rock formations, tunnels and caves until you are below the escarpment and the track becomes wide and fast walking down to Rosea Turntable at the intersection of Stoney Creek Road and Silverband Road. About 50 metres downhill on the Silverbank Road, a pile of cut logs marks the old Silverband Falls track (long since closed by Victoria Parks) which leads down Dairy Creek and intersects the Silverband Road at a U bend in the road. You can follow this track - brushed in but passable - or follow the road down to the Burma Track. Either way, you'll walk about 800 metres. If you follow the track, it disappears into the creek after about 200 metres but there is still a faint foot pad visible most of the way and it is easy enough walking in the creek. If you've followed the creek, you need to walk back up the road for 40 metres or so to get on the Burma Track (so you don't save any distance only some road walking).

Walking off Mount Rosea

The Burma Track has some impressive washouts from floods and some huge boulders are poised to roll onto the road below next time heavy rain falls. You have to scramble down into and out of a couple of large gullies in the first two kilometres. After about two kilometres, there is a very faint old road branching off to the left which runs down Glen Hills to meet the Grampians Tourist Drive at Lake Bellfield. If you carry on, in less than a minute, you reach a much more prominent junction. The uphill fork is a new track not marked on the map that steadily gains elevation and intersects the Chislett Track (you'll recognise the junction from earlier in the day). If you want to avoid the extra elevation gain (and subsequent loss) take the lower left hand fork and intersect the Memorial Track just before it begins it's steep descent.

We took the new (upper track) which is in really good shape but climbs more than necessary to the junction with the Chislett Track. Instead of following the bushy and washed out in places Memorial Track down we took the road down until we were below the steep descent/ascent and had intercepted the track again. The descent on the road feels steeper even than the track. Then, simply follow the Memorial Track back to Fyans Creek, and have a dip if there is enough water in the creek. This is a nice remote feeling hike and you'll only meet other people on the section from Rosea Turntable to Mount Rosea.

Mount Stapylton and Mount Zero

Most of the northern Grampians is currently closed after a bushfire ran through last year, and, Victoria Parks does not seem to be in too much of a hurry to open up the tracks or climbing areas, but, two hikes at the northern end - Mount Stapylton and Mount Zero are currently open. Both are short so you can easily do both in either an afternoon or morning. 

 Overlooking Stapylton Ampitheatre

Mount Stapylton is definitely the most interesting. The track runs up rock slabs to Flat Rock where there is a grand view of the impressive Taipan Wall, then descends a short distance to cross a burnt valley before climbing around the south side of Mount Stapylton and heading up to the summit on more rock slabs. A sign marks the end of the hiking track (marked by yellow triangles) but, if you are a peak bagger, you'll immediately notice that you aren't actually on top of Mount Stapylton which rises a short distance higher. Some old faded red arrows led out on rock slabs around the west side of the mountain and a few scrambling moves (some may not like this section) lead to the real summit. There is an impressive amount of rock all around and most climbers will be dreaming of wild new routes waiting first ascents.

 Mount Stapylton

On the other side of the road, Mount Zero takes less than an hour round trip along a similarly well marked track gaining a saddle on the east side and then romping up rock slabs to the top. A great view of Mount Stapylton awaits and a compass rose helps identify the surrounding features.

So Long Arapiles

I am way behind in this blog as I've been out and about climbing and hiking too frequently to have time to record our latest activities. Which means this will be another of those ultra boring travelogue type blogs where I just bleat on about the last things we've done. 

Aphrodite at Arapiles was a grand climb, although I got stuck on the first pitch for a while contemplating a ground fall if the micro nut (rated for aid only) were to fail if I failed to pull the slick moves up to easier ground. Finally, after staring at this "crux" for a long time and testing the moves, I stepped left, found myself on route (instead of off-route) and with a lovely cam placement to protect the few moves to easier ground, and, I was away. The first pitch has interesting climbing to a belay stance not far below the notch on Tiptoe Ridge, the second pitch ambles up easy terrain but you can make it more interesting by taking the steepest route, and the third pitch traverses left to pull a roof on big jugs in "an exposed position" (it is pretty exposed). Halfway through the crux moves there is the most bomber thread, but I ended up moving past it as I had no long sling handy having used my usual thread sling on a chicken head lower down. If you plan to climb this route, keep a double length skinny runner handy for this most awesome bit of natural protection. 

We wandered off and climbed Diapason after Aphrodite, although it was getting a bit hot in the sun. A nice starting pitch up a steepening crack with some interesting moves, a rambling pitch up the middle of the buttress, and finally a chimney move or two and an interesting step across onto the wall complete the route. 

We also climbed Watchtower Chimney which is about the most fun you can have on a chimney route and the third pitch is just superb. Doug led pitches one to three, and I took the easy final pitch. Pitch one starts up a steep crack that gradually fades out, there is a carrot bolt, and then you traverse left to a corner crack. I traversed low with my hands on the ledge, while Doug did this section the hard (unprotected) way by traversing with his feet on the ledge and no hand holds. I can just about always find the easy way. Anyway, if you go low, you get some gear placements at your hand level, go high, and you'll have a longish runout to the corner. The corner crack offers sustained and quite slick climbing and I was happy not to be leading it.
There is a small belay stance in the corner, and then a short pitch up to the chimney. Doug went a bit higher than the normal belay spot to the top of a chockstone which made a bomber belay and necessitated just a few chimney moves that required me to hang both pack and shoes off my belay loop. The third pitch is atmospheric and a little difficult if you are leading it as you are not quite sure where to go or how to tackle it. If you don't want beta, don't read on! First, stem up above the chockstone, then step up onto the right hand wall where a ledge runs along the top of the chimney. Climb along this stepped ledge until you get back into the chimney proper higher up. A few chimney moves with good ledges for feet and you are up out of the chimney and at a big belay ledge. No Joe Herbst moves required. The final pitch climbs an easy crack then rambles to the top. 

One of our other last multi-pitches was Hurricane Lamps Crack which I enjoyed but Doug found a bit choppy. The first pitch requires just a few chimney moves to start but most of it you can stem. Pitch two is up a steep crack and has multiple options. Pitch three traverses a small ledge to pull around a nose of rock and up steeply. Pitch four is short, just 10 metres, but is tough to combine with pitch three due to rope drag. There's a slightly stiff for the grade but fun start and then you are up on the "tennis court" and the final two pitches are easy rambling to grade 8 and can be done as one long pitch. 

We also did a few routes up at Preludes Wall as it stays shady in the afternoon. All good routes that are between 25 and 35 metres long and feel a bit stiff even for Arapiles grades. Steep and technical at the same time requiring good footwork and body tension. Of course, the Pillars of Hercules at the top provide bomber anchors and there is a rappel anchor at the far left side (25 metre rappel). 

After six weeks or so of climbing, we've finally left Arapiles and are now in the Grampians. The climbing was beginning to feel a bit the same - which is not a criticism of Arapiles as, everywhere in the world I've climbed if you stay in one place the climbing begins to feel a bit the same. Squamish is slabs and cracks, more slabs, more cracks. Skaha is steep crimping followed by more steep crimping, the Black Rocks are steep basalt jugs and cracks, Frenchmans Coulee is similar, and, well, you get the picture. It was also starting to get a bit hot at Arapiles with lots more days of continuous over 30 Celsius days in the forecast. Already I've got a bunch of Grampians hikes to write up and not much time so the boring travelogue type blog post is likely to continue.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Slightly Bold

Going cheap: one 51 year old (almost 52 as my mother informed me yesterday) climber who can lead "slightly bold" pitches and tackle overhangs on "big holds in ... exposed position(s)."

I once read Andy Kirkpatrick describing sea kayaking as moments of utter boredom (I wish I was dead) interspersed with moments of utter terror (I'm going to fucking die) with a slice of utter commitment (I hope my partner dies, not me) thrown in (read the whole blog post here). Things weren't quite so clear cut today, but I did feel some moments of sheer joy (this climbing is awesome) interspersed with some moments of not quite utter terror - must get solid piece in NOW - while leading today's routes. The beauty of climbing is it doesn't really matter what grade you are climbing, you can always have this intense experience where your whole focus is narrowed down to the moves in front of you.

Arapiles Morning

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

More Arapiles Climbs

After a pretty unpleasant 40 Celsius day the usual southerly change came through and it got cold again. Victoria seems to be a continuous cycle of hot and cold weather never really settling into anything really pleasant. We had a casual day at Arapiles climbing some one and two pitch routes until it began to thunder and rain just as I was finishing up Mesa (an easy grade 10). For once, there was a rappel anchor on top and Doug and I were off in a flash as the thunder rumbled all around us. 

Detour ahead in Watchtower Chimney

The next day I had my pick and we climbed Xena and Diapason.  Xena is on the Pinnacle Face so has the standard easy walk off down the tourist track. I led all the pitches and it is a fun route with good gear, good belays and solid rock. Pitch one is supposed to be 8, but I thought it was slightly harder than pitch two which is 9, although there was really only one slightly thin move on the first pitch up a steep smooth crack. Pitch three is a ramble up easy terrain and pitch four pulls a roof on good jugs and then eases to grade 8 terrain. We scored a booty cam from the belay on Siren which some party had left behind. It was a bit hot in the sun, but there was some breeze so after lunch, we walked up to the Organ Pipes and I led all three pitches of Diapason (grade 8). Pitch one rambles up a steepening crack which can be tackled straight on or out to the left. Pitch two is quite easy up the buttress, and pitch three involves a couple of quasi-chimney moves before a steep little traverse and then easy ground. Lots of protection available on all the pitches and you can rappel off rings past Piccolo so the descent is easy too. 

 Doug on pitch two of Panzer

Doug led all three pitches of Panzer (grade 12) the next day. This is really a good route with a lot of variety in the climbing. The first pitch is quite slabby with a thin traverse. Gear is adequate but spaced. Pitch two climbs a steep corner, then steps right around an arete onto the face and continues up on more spaced gear placements. The last belay is under a roof, and, in classic Arapiles style, the final pitch traverses out right on easy ground, climbs a little corner, and then continues up juggy terrain to the top of a little tower. The last pitch seems easier than the other two but is still graded 12. You have to downclimb off the back of the tower (about 5.3) and, as a fall would be greatly injurious if not fatal, I climbed down first on belay and stuck a couple of pieces in for Doug, none of which he appeared to need. 

 A pretty bomber anchor

The usual punting was being done on Arachnus on both days we were nearby with the leaders endlessly shouting "slack" and grunting with effort as they tried to surmount the rope drag resulting from using sport draws on this route. I'm beginning to think a sign at the bottom of the climb warning people not to use short draws but to take double length runners would save a lot of grief. The rope always zig-zags so severely from side to side that the gear being placed is subject to huge sideways pulls. 

 Doug starting up Watchtower Chimney pitch one

Yesterday we climbed Watchtower Chimney and had time for Stalagmite (nicely in the shade) afterwards. Watchtower Chimney is alternating pitches of grade 12 and grade 8, Doug led the first three pitches and I the last easy pitch. Pitch one starts up a steep crack that gradually fades out and then you traverse left on slabby terrain to a slippery corner. Doug took the high line on the traverse putting his feet on the little ledge with a crack in the back, but that left nothing for the hands and no gear, but I took the low route with reasonable dishes on the slab for my feet, good hands in the ledge/crack (and you could put in a couple of pieces of gear). I found the corner slippery and tricky, but I always suck on the first pitch of the day. Pitch two finished up the corner and then tackles the chimney. Doug got a good chockstone belay after a couple of chimney moves, but I suspect most folks belay below this chockstone. The chimney is interesting climbing and tough for the leader to work out exactly how to tackle it. You start above the chockstone with some stemming moves, then step onto a ledge on the right and balance up this awkward stepped ledge on the right wall of the chimney. A step across to the left wall gives a few more face climbing moves, then you move right up into the chimney until you are almost, but not quite, wedged in and with your back against the right wall, and your feet on ledges on the left, chimney up until a couple of good holds help you pull up out of the chimney onto a big belay ledge. The route is pretty much over by then with just a couple of 8 moves up a crack on the right and a romp to the top.

 Doug in Watchtower Chimney

We walked up to Preludes Wall after a late lunch and Doug led Stalagmite (grade 13) which has two distinct cruxes up overhangs. The bottom crack, although steep, looks featured but is a little harder than it appears at first glance and the second (final) overhang requires good body positioning and tension to avoid thrashing about - as I did At the top of the route is a big cave with huge "stalagmites" that make bomber belays (although I am sure a certain local guide would insist on "backing" them up). A short walk along the ledge with the stalagmites is a rappel anchor so this was another cushy route. 

 Lake Wynn Reserve

We decided to stick with our two days on/one day off climbing schedule which has turned out well as it has been raining since mid morning today. I wandered off on a 14 km walk which took me across the now completely dry Lake Natimuk to the northern end where I picked up a track through a wildlife refuge that runs along the also dry Natimuk Creek, a short stretch on a quiet road and I got on another track through melalueca forest by Lake Wyn (salt) wildlife reserve. That's another week at Arapiles gone by. 

Lake Wynn

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Musings On Mortality, Bard, Tale Of Woe

Standing at the base of Bard belaying Doug up the slightly run-out slab that comprises about a third of pitch one, I thought to myself how easy it would be to maim or kill yourself climbing. Of course, we do (or try to) everything we can to reduce the risk of injury or death when climbing, but, in some ways the spectre of bodily harm, particularly on traditional climbs is always there. This, I think is likely the appeal of sport climbing. On modern sport climbs, adequate and solid bomber protection means that falling has little consequence. I've fallen off sport climbs before and never sustained so much as a bruise. On trad climbs however, I'm always thinking about where and when to place gear, how to protect myself from nasty falls onto ledges, low angle terrain or other protrusions, and, most importantly, whether or not the gear will actually hold a fall. Like most (all?) smart trad climbers, I'm placing protection but I'm also determined that I am not going to fall onto that protection. 

 Doug racked and ready to lead Bard

But, back to Bard. Doug speedily finished the first pitch and I followed him up to the belay at the top of the easy juggy ramp that ends pitch one. We swapped gear around, realised that we didn't have our mobile phone with us - we suddenly felt a bit more out there - and Doug led off on the infamous traverse pitch. This is a bit of a funny pitch - 12 metres of climbing, but you end up just a few metres above the last belay. From below, all I could see was Doug's butt hanging out over space and a lot of muttering about how difficult it was to see his feet. Soon enough, however, he was building a belay on a small ledge perched right on the arete of Bard Buttress. I was a bit worried about the traverse pitch as I really do not like seconding traverses. No matter how well the leader protects the second, it always feels as if a pendulum fall is imminent. I need not have worried too much as the climbing is not difficult, just hellishly awkward and Doug had placed lots of solid protection. Like Doug, I soon found my head jammed under the overhanging wall above my head as I inched my feet across, and, once your head is jammed under that overhang, it is surprisingly hard to extricate. 

 Head jamming the traverse pitch

Pitches three to five are just great Arapiles climbing, nothing too hard, in fact, Bard feels a bit over-rated by Arapiles standards to us. Pitch three has a slightly balancy traverse to the right, and then you climb up a good corner to a deep crack that has a couple of slightly strenuous moves as you pull onto the next ledge. Pitch four is classic Arapiles jug hauling and leads to the spacious Bard Terrace where we had a drink of water. Finally, pitch five starts out very steeply (you can also climb the awkward looking chimney) and gradually eases a little to the top. 

 Doug on Bard Terrace

The descent off Bard requires downclimbing into Ali Baba's cave - the most obvious way to do this is to slither down a slippery ramp to a big boulder and then make a stretchy (at least for short person) move into the bottom of the cave. It would be unfortunate to fall here - as is so often the case on Arapiles descents - as you could easily fall into a rock "crevasse" and break many bones in your body. Crawl through the cave and then join the standard Alis descent down chains. Last time we did this, we rappelled off another parties double ropes and got all the way to the bottom. As we had only one rope, and the rappel is over 30 metres, we clipped ourselves into the chains and lowered ourselves down the highly polished "grade 3" (ha!) descent. The chains run out before the bottom, but, luckily the last downclimb is not polished and is nice and juggy. It's probably goes at a YDS 5.3 (not class 3 as the conversion chart in the guidebook would imply). 

 Doug in Ali Baba's cave

Once we were down, Doug commented on how much more sense it would have made to simply add one more rappel station so that parties could rappel with a standard 50 or 60 metre rope. Way less hardware (there must have been a dozen bolts on the chain line) and way safer. But, such is the Australian way - mired as the climbing community is in ridiculous controversy about simple safety upgrades. Ironically, but not for the party involved, a climber was killed a few hours later descending another one of Arapiles "standard descent routes". In this instance, the descent requires downclimbing (most of them do) a slab (exact grade unknown but it's not unusual for the "descent downclimbs" to be YDS 5.7). The climber obviously felt unable to safely downclimb and had slung a big boulder with his rope to use as a handline. The boulder failed, the climber fell (only 3 to 4 metres) but, the boulder also fell, unluckily on top of the climber, and he succumbed to fatal head injuries. A couple of rappel bolts could save all that anguish.

 Protection is a little sparser than normal on pitch one of Bard

The day after Bard, I picked a couple of routes in the Harlequin Cracks area. Right now I'm feeling pretty solid leading 8's but I want to push that up to 10 or 11. This might seem a lowly goal - and it probably is a lowly goal, but bear in mind, I'm over 50, I've never been a really brilliant leader or climber, and I haven't done any significant climbing since moving to Australia two years ago.
According to the conversion chart inside the cover of the Arapiles guide, grade 10 is 5.4, but, anyone from North America knows that is nonsense, just as grade 3 is not class 3. Grade 10 is probably around 5.7 here at Arapiles, and grade 13 feels like about 5.9. When I was climbing well, I could lead 5.10a's and the occasional 10b on bolts, but, I only ever led to about 5.7 with perhaps the odd move or two of 5.8 on gear. I suffer from a real lack of bravery when it comes to leading on gear.

 Me leading the diagonal crack on Tale of Woe

In any case, I'm now picking routes that have some pitches of 9 to lead, and, Tale of Woe, had a nice range of grades on the route and I would lead it all. I started by leading BA Mosquito (5) which is just a tad run-out. I had only one very manky chock to make the crux moves and the piece below that was so far down I would have hit the ground from 20 metres up if I fell. I've been experimenting with only placing gear where I feel I need it, instead of obsessively sewing up grade 6 routes. This works well until the route suddenly gets harder and you have no possible gear placements and your last piece is a long way down. Trad climbing is a balancing act between placing so much gear you move slowly and pump out, and placing so little gear that you risk a death fall. 

 Eyeing the crux on the grade 9 pitch

Tale of Woe starts from the top of BA Mosquito and goes up a nice looking diagonal crack (grade 8). I enjoyed leading this pitch although I inexplicably felt a bit nervous - must be all the morbid thoughts I've been having lately. I kept calm however, and just focused on placing solid gear. Ironically, one of my chocks pulled when I moved past so clearly my gear was not as solid as I thought. At the top of pitch one, Tale of Woe joins Beau Geste. My third pitch was grade 9, and had that de ja vu, I've been here before feeling as all I could get to start up the crux moves was a manky chock and my last piece was way down below and off to the side. Luckily, a couple of juggy moves later I got a good cam. 

I was using all double length runners to reduce rope drag which left my rope hanging well below where I had climbed and as I moved past it got caught in a crack under a flake. Both Doug and I engaged in some frantic flipping to try and extricate it - not that comfortable on a tiny steep ledge - but it kept catching itself back in. Just when I had given up and figured I'd just have to go for it and hope for the best, Doug managed to flip it free and kept it free. You'd never believe it, but, I've twice in the past had ropes jam in cracks when I was leading and both times the ropes jammed in so solidly that I actually had to untie and keep climbing. Luckily, I was climbing on double ropes both times and only one rope jammed so I was not completely soloing (happened on the rope eating cracks at Red Rocks, Nevada). 

Finally, the last pitch on Tale of Woe/Beau Geste is a bit of a let down as there is about 8 metres of good climbing up horizontal breaks before the pitch deteriorates into an easy ramble. I ran the rope all the way up to the top, but you could easily just solo the last section. I was happy to have led all the pitches and Doug enjoyed his day being "guided." 

It was starting to feel pretty hot when we finished, although it was only about noon, but, I thought I could squeeze in one more pitch before the heat became intolerable. So, after walking off (long but easy) we went over to the shady side of Mitre Rock and I led the grade 7 first pitch of The Baptism. I've led most of the other easy shady routes at Mitre Rock and it was way too hot to climb in the sun. Doug started to lead pitch two (a grade 13 hand jam), but the opening moves were hard to protect and a fall would have landed him onto the big belay ledge so he wisely climbed back down and led Wee Skerrick (also grade 13) instead. I totally butchered this route as I was not expecting it to be as hard as it was, and ended up dogging on the rope. Personally, I thought is was way harder than some of the 15's and 16's we've climbed at Arapiles but Doug didn't agree so maybe I was doing something horribly wrong. Which brings me to today's rest day - forecast to be 40 Celsius and way, way too hot to climb.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Rest Days Are Still Tough

Rest day today before a couple more days of climbing and then a wretched day with temperatures forecast to reach almost 40 Celsius that we will somehow just have to survive. Doug walked around Natimuk Lake - which is now completely dry - while I drove out to Arapiles and did a little bouldering and wandered along the Big Sky bicycle track. There were lots of parties on Tiger Wall - how many can you spot in the photo below? - but, wretchedly, not one on Bard. 

 Seven parties on Tiger Wall this morning

I took my new shoes bouldering - nothing too hard as it was a rest day after all. I am trying to dial in how these shoes work, which may seem self-evident, but, my other pair of shoes are very aggressive La Sportivas that edge amazingly well but don't smear well at all. Climbing is a bit like carpentry - if you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Similarly, if you only have an edging shoe, you edge everything. My new shoes are Anasazi Verde's and, I think I've got them worked out. You need to press down on them and smear them over the holds with your big toe in, rather than toe in sideways as I do with my edging shoes. Doing this, they seem to grip really well. You'd have to have strong feet to edge them well on micro-holds, and my feet, after wearing stiff shoes, are not all that strong right now.

Bouldering was super fun and I had to restrain myself from staying out for hours until I was really tired - that would hardly be the point of a rest day. It was just so nice to move freely without this big rack hanging over your shoulder or worrying about whether the rope was behind your leg, or where you were going to get the next piece of protection. I never used to really like bouldering, but, if you find a good bouldering area - as we have done fairly frequently in Australia - it is a really fun activity and much quicker and easier than faffing around with ropes, harnesses, protection, etc. 

 Bouldering on Good Morning Arapiles

I shot some video bouldering and it was enlightening to see that all that practice paying attention to my foot placements has made me really conscious of getting a good foot stick first time, but, I sure need to start doing the same with my hands as I tend to shift them from one hold to the other before I finally move on. It's good to know what you need to work on. The basic drill for correcting this is known as Glue Hands.

Even though I am over 50 (just) I still find rest days hard to take. Especially if the weather is good. The old drive to keep going, going, going is still there, not that much lessened by the years, and, it is only learning from past experience that I'll climb better tomorrow (and have more fun) that I manage to take rest days. 

 Big Sky track

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Spiral Staircase, Eskimo Nell

After the hot day on Friday, Saturday cooled off to about 32 Celsius, and, in the morning and in the shade, it was tolerable to climb. I picked another long rambling easy route and planned to lead all the pitches as I am trying to get lots of leading time in. We started off on Spiral Staircase (8), on the Pharos relatively early, as the guidebook indicates it has early morning shade. It was shady right up until the last two pitches, which go pretty quickly so we didn't feel baked at all. Pitch one is a long pitch up a buttress and is mostly easy except for a few moves on steeper terrain. I was wearing my really old and totally worn out rock shoes that I bought for our climbing trip to El Portero Chico three years ago. Climbing the crux of the route, I instantly decided it was time to go look for some new rock shoes - a task I had been putting off since we arrived at Mount Arapiles. Pitch two is a scramble, pitch three, I let Doug lead as I had led it before when we climbed The Shroud (these two routes share the same finish), and, I led pitch four up to the summit. 

We rappelled off down into the cool gully on the back of The Pharos in time to see a strong European climber working a hard sport route. There is a peculiar grace about good climbers that I always try to emulate, never successfully. Mostly (?always) they are also very strong with good core strength and body tension. 

I have been meaning to climb a few chimneys at Arapiles as, like most people, I really don't like chimneys. I'd picked a chimney (grade 6 only) around the back of The Pharos which the guidebook calls "a good chimney for the grade." And, it is. I really liked it, but I totally muffed it. I climbed all the way up to the crux and had lots of good gear, but, when it came time to seriously chimney I baulked and climbed all the way back down again. Doug went up and finished the climb, but, I actually think I, on second, had an easier time than him as I am short and fitted in better. I'll have to add it to my list of routes to go back and lead. There seemed no point beating myself up for piking out, so I didn't (I would have in the past). 

Doug crawling through the cave on Eskimo Nell

It was feeling pretty hot by then and I had decided to go look for rock shoes in Natimuk, so we called it a day. Doug dropped me off at Natimuk where I found a pair of rock shoes (pricey!) very similar to my old ones and walked back to the caravan. The guy in the shop got a bit miffed that I wanted to just try on shoes and work out which ones felt right as he thought it imperative that I tell him "what kind of climbing I was doing" so he could recommend a shoe. I always find that a tough question, especially in Australia where I'm basically climbing anything that is climbable. It's not like I'm climbing big splitter cracks (there aren't many) so, I'm basically doing what 98% of climbers do, and that's climbing whatever is handy. At this stage of my climbing career (can it be called a career) I pretty much know what I'm looking for and will know which shoe is right by how it feels. Anyway, I came away with a pair of shoes, although when I asked if he had a climbing wall to try the shoes on or if I could try them on the blocky building across the road, you'd think I'd asked him if I could take a dump in the shoes. Just another quirky Australianism - I mean, really, who would want to see how a particular shoe performs before buying them.

 Doug stepping off "the jetty" on Eskimo Nell

Today was gradually warming, and by afternoon it was actually feeling pretty warm and enervating although the thermometer didn't climb that high. The sun is just so intense in Australia. Doug had psyched himself up to lead all five pitches of Bard - a classic grade 12 - but, when we arrived two parties were already on the route, and both were looking agonisingly slow. Pretty much every party we see climbing at Arapiles is incredibly slow. Perhaps it is the lack of long climbs so that people never learn to be efficient, or maybe it is because we are on the lower grade routes. Doug and I aren't particularly fast, and we are continually astonished by how slow people are. We waited at the base of Bard for a while, but, the leader of the second party was taking about 15 minutes to arrange a belay and pull the rope up, so it seemed likely that, as the third party on the route, we would spend a lot of time waiting. Years ago, we climbed Diedre at Squamish and spent about 45 minutes waiting at each belay for the party ahead of us. We'd climb a pitch (all three of us) in about 20 minutes, and then we'd wait until the hour ticked over before we could climb again. Kind of boring, really. 
Anyway, Doug was a bit flustered as he had not chosen an alternate route, so we walked back to the car and he flipped through the guidebook. Pretty quickly he settled on Dune (grade 13 up Dunes Buttress). However, by the time we walked up to the base of Dunes, another party was just about to start up. Luckily, Doug's fourth quick pick, Eskimo Nell was right beside Dunes so we did that instead. 

Doug did a great job leading all the pitches as I think he was a bit discombobulated that things were not going as planned. I felt awkward and clumpy in my new climbing shoes which feel completely different to my old ones and didn't seem to belong on my feet (that'll get better). Doug strung P1 and P2 together as P2 is a short pitch up a grade six gully. Pitch one looks not too bad, up a big white flake that leans against the wall, but, looks are deceiving as the first 10 metres are tricky, delicate, insecure, awkward, and, it's hard to protect. Everything has been polished by bicycling shoes so it feels hard to trust much of anything. I found it all a bit desperate on a top-rope. P3 steps off the right end of a big fin of rock called the "diving board", and, will be much harder if you aren't right out on the end of the fin. This pitch is actually lots of fun up a steep black wall with good holds, protection and rests. We moved the belay through the crawl through cave and then Doug strung pitches four and five together. The chimney start on pitch four was again easier for shorter people, but, I found a few moves, particularly the exit, on pitch five entertaining. 

 Doug heading up Eskimo Nell

The lads on Dune were moving at a snails pace and seemed to spend about half an hour having a long and involved discussion at the first belay (just below our first belay), and by the time we had walked half a kilometre to the road, down the road to the track and then all the way down the track to the car, they were only just starting up pitch three. The two parties on Bard were also still doing battle, so, all in all, it only reinforced what we have been thinking since we arrived - don't get behind other parties on a route or you'll grow old waiting.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Midnight Sun

There are strange things done in the midnight sunRobert Service.

There are also strange things done at Australia's most popular crag and, yet again, I have to wonder how Australia has managed to stay so isolated from the developments in climbing over the last forty years in the rest of the world. Sure, it's an island state, and somewhat geographically isolated, but, if you can ship live cows to Saudi Arabia, you can import a few improvements in skills and equipment.

Take the carrot bolt (or retard bolt) as we call it. This might have been a quasi-reasonable solution when nothing else existed, but that was a long time ago, and continuing to install retard bolts when better and safer solutions exist is simply retarded. However, you don't come across that many retard bolts at Arapiles, what you do come across is climbers doing all sorts of weird things, and then passing those weird things on to their friends and climbing companions. Heck, even the guides are passing on weird things. 

 Manky top-rope anchor set by "guide"

Take for instance the bandoleer, which has been around for at least 20 years. Our bandoleer has been the subject of much envy at the crag as people exclaim over how revolutionary it is to have an over the shoulder sling with separate gear slots. What about joining ropes for a rappel? For at least 20 years the standard in other countries has been two overhands as this has been shown to be safe, strong, and least likely to get stuck when you pull the rope. Here in Australia, people are still joining ropes with hugely bulky figure 8 follow throughs backed up with stopper knots. Try that just one time at Red Rocks and you will quickly be looking for a better solution, and two new ropes.

Climbers are also struggling to understand why their double butterfly coils are so tangled every time they go to flake out their ropes, and why they are stuck with horrendous rope-drag 15 metres up the first pitch of the day when they are using dog-bones (aka quick draws) instead of double length runners. It would be great if climbers in Australia would discover the auto-belay device - any brand would help. Parties of three are very common on routes at Arapiles but no-one knows how to belay two seconds using an auto-block device. In North America, we climbed as a threesome for years and were just about as fast as a pair of climbers because auto-blocks enable two seconds to climb safely at once. Doug and I are not particularly fast climbers but, at Arapiles, we make it a rule not to get onto a route behind another party, particularly a party of three, as it does not seem to matter how far up the leading party is, we will catch them at some point. Better rope management (lap coils, autoblocks for example) would speed up the progress of these slow parties as would a simple understanding of time management. I guess, when all your climbs are relatively short, there is not much incentive to try and be efficient on a climb. 

We've seen numerous new climbers being instructed to belay seconds directly off the anchor - which would be fine if they had a bomber anchor and some kind of autoblock (like the Black Diamond ATC-guide), but they don't. They have crappy 40 year old stitch plates, and tubes, and belaying in this manner is recklessly unsafe. I've even seen "guides" teaching their clients to do this. I'm also not really sure why beginners are instructed to "back-up" bomb-proof single piece belays. I'm not talking about one good cam or chock, I'm talking about a 50 year old living trees, or threads the size of my thigh. There's just no way these anchors are going to fail and teaching some kind of rote rules is antithetical to the essence of climbing which is all about making reasoned decisions based on principles not dogma. The practice of "guides" encouraging their clients, who are just learning to place gear, to lead gear climbs without the safety of a top-rope belay just would not occur in Canada where guides are ACMG certified. There seems little to be learned when the "guide" stands at the bottom of the pitch and reassures the somewhat anxious climber that "she'll be right" when the client expresses concern about their gear placements or belays. 

No-one ever seems to consider how the belayer will be pulled in the event of a leader fall from a multi-pitch route once the party has left the ground, so that belays are poorly set up, running the risk of the belayer completely losing control of the belay if the leader falls. On one very popular beginner route, the only anchor available at the top of pitch two is directly above a very deep (as in 40 metres deep) gorge that runs up the cliff. Pitch three starts with the leader stepping across this void (intimidating but relatively easy). Should the leader fall after crossing the void, the second will be pulled off the ledge and down into the void. Hopefully, the anchor will hold, but really, this route would benefit from the addition of a bolted belay. Gear anchors are great, but not when they are patently unsafe. I assume it is just a matter of time until a leader falls, the second is pulled off the ledge, the belay fails and one or two people die. I can only guess that the reason such a thing has not yet happened is because pitch three is pretty easy. 

It's over 30 degrees today at Arapiles, so we are avoiding (as best we can) the heat of the day, hoping to get out climbing tomorrow, and, wondering all over again, what strange and wacky things we'll see.

The Dribble and Muldoon

A pretty quiet day out and about on the crags of Arapiles today, although the school groups were up to their usual shenanigans with top-ropes festooned across a short steep crag that has virtually no easy routes. The hapless students were hanging on this series of ropes splayed across the cliffs like flies caught in a spider web - and moving about as much. 

Our first route was The Dribble, a four pitch climb up Tiger Wall. If you don't have a small TCU and micro RP (I always wonder if those tiny little things would actually hold a fall), you'll have to climb the first eight metres of pitch one with no protection.  Pitch two is short and takes good gear, while the 50 metre money pitch up the long crack also soaks up gear.  The fourth pitch is a definite let down from the rest of the route, up two short rather dirty walls, but, the climbing is easy enough and over quickly.  The walk-off Tiger Wall takes a little longer than other walls as you have to walk back to the road, down this to the track and follow that down Central Gully to the Pines campground. We ended up so close to Doug's next pick - Muldoon - that it didn't make sense to go back to the car for lunch as planned. 

 Doug leading the money pitch on The Dribbler

Doug did a grand job leading both pitches of Muldoon, which is STEEP. The crux is on pitch one where you have to step off a reasonable ledge and launch up some very steep ground with your butt hanging out over a huge overhang 30 metres off the ground - quite thrilling for the leader. Pitch two is still steep, but the jugs are big, positive and plentiful. The guidebook says the rappel off is 32 metres and a 30 metre rope will do, but, our 60 metre rope was about 8 metres up the wall when doubled so I think the rappel is a lot longer than 30 metres. Basically, you need two ropes to rappel as the rappel is free hanging much of the way. It is forecast to be 34 Celsius tomorrow, so we will have a day off climbing.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Rambles On The Pinnacle Face

We had a rambling day climbing at Mount Arapiles today. I was still feeling a little stiff and sore (I blame Ivan the terrible) so, after waffling about, decided on climbing an easy route on The Pinnacle Face. Doug was very kind and let me lead all the pitches, which was really no big deal as the hardest pitch was only grade 10 and then only for a short section. First off, we wandered up Ordinary Trees. I attempted to join pitch one to pitch two (walk along a ledge to a corner), but even though I only placed about two pieces of gear on the first pitch, I still had horrendous rope drag so we had to move the belay anyway. Pitch three is probably the money pitch up a corner on featured slab, and then the route joins Tiptoe Ridge for the last two pitches. I caught up with a party climbing Tiptoe Ridge just as I came up to the penultimate belay. Again, I considered joining the last two pitches into one long pitch, but you would need to simul-climb them both to do this as the rope drag would be unmanageable otherwise. 

It was only noonish when we finished so I thought we might as well tick off Introductory Route as well, so we walked down Central Gully and around to Introductory Route. I had led the first pitch of this a few weeks ago when we climbed Siren (share the same first pitch) and was surprised how much easier pitch one felt (it is only grade four) this time around and how easy it was too find adequate gear (I found the gear fiddly last time). Mind you, I only placed two or three pieces so maybe that makes a difference. 

 Doug following Ordinary Trees

I caught up with a guided party at the top of pitch two, so continued above them to a smaller ledge and brought Doug up. I was feeling a bit desperate not to get stuck behind the guided party as they were only on pitch three and had started before we started climbing Ordinary Trees. It would be a long wait if we had to wait. Luckily, for some unknown reason (gear placements perhaps) the leader had climbed a somewhat scruffy looking chimney crack to the left of the buttress that the route actually goes up, so I was able to climb up beside them and, by taking the 10 variation, completely avoided getting tangled up with them. We managed to sidle past them on the last pitch as well, aided by the fact that I was only placing two or three pieces of gear each pitch, so we could move quickly.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Same Old, Same Old

This is one of those rambling blog posts that is about either nothing much, or a lot of different things. It all depends on your perspective. When I got up at 5.30 am this morning, the sun was still an hour below the horizon but there was enough light for a morning walk so I sauntered off to the east along the road past the Natimuk Cemetery. Every day I take these walks I think that I really should have my camera along as I've been witness to an endless series of spectacular sunrises and sunsets. Today must have been one of the most impressive. Grey clouds loomed over Mount Arapiles to the west, strings of red virga streaked the sky overhead, flashes of lightening lit up the surrounding fields, and, in the east, the sun was tipping over the horizon in a searing ball of colour. 

It's hard to believe it is six weeks since we first arrived at Natimuk to climb at Mount Arapiles. We've done a lot of climbs in that time, but, not near as many as I might have thought. Of course, during that six weeks we've been away twice to do other trips, so have actually only been at Natimuk for half that time. Although it is November, the temperature (at least right now) is still okay for climbing, and I am looking forward to hanging out here, climbing regularly and resting regularly without any pressure to travel any place else. When you hate driving as much as we do, traveling becomes detestable.

 Sunset at Gippsland Lakes in lieu of sunrise at Natimuk

I've been fiddling around with my diet again trying to find something sustainable that doesn't leave me with carbohydrate cravings yet provides sufficient energy to fuel all my activities and facilitate recovery. To that end, I've been on an ultra low carbohydrate (below 30 grams/day) diet for the last month. I feel pretty good with sufficient energy for low level activities like walking and kayaking, but, my energy for more intense workouts has significantly flagged, and, judging by how I feel this morning, I'm not recovering all that well either. I'm not sure if it is the after effects of a fairly hectic two weeks, the battle with Ivan the terrible yesterday, or the cumulative effects of a low carbohydrate diet. Today is definitely one of those days when I don't really feel as if I am holding my own. 

Finally, having a visit from two good friends from Canada was fabulous, but, reinforced the idea that moving away from Nelson (which is an awesome little town you could easily grow old and die in) was the right option. While it was wonderful to hear all about what everyone back home was getting up to, I also found myself glad that I was living somewhere new and different, engaging in new and different activities. I've always been addicted to novelty, and, hearing about the 15th annual trip to the Kaslo Hilton last year from R, only pushed the insistent thought "same old, same old" into my mind.