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.