This is just one of the stories in Simon’s Trips, a book honouring the life of NZ mountaineer, Simon Bell.
After his disappearance on Pikirakatahi/Mt Earnslaw in Jan 2015, his parents, Colin and Jeni Bell, compiled the book from Simon’s accounts and photos. Lorraine Johns, Rob Hawes, the late Steve Dowall and other friends also contributed stories of tramping or climbing trips they made with Simon.
Simon’s Trips was originally a gift to his family and friends but was later made available in return for a donation to the FMC Mountain and Forest Trust. These donations paid the majority of the costs of digitizing FMC’s publication ‘Safety in the Mountains’ (available here as the ‘Manual’) and establishing the Wilderlife website. Simon’s estate contributed the balance.
“Arapiles is NZ’s best multi-pitch trad climbing destination. 1200+ routes (1 – 33), bolt free (mostly), 1 to 4 pitch climbs, trad anchors, walk off / rap off, pretty good weather.”
Arapiles is actually in Australia and not alpine rock climbing at all. It is crag climbing. People camp five minutes’ walk away from the base of the crag. However it is all trad climbing, where you place your own gear as you lead, and there are over 1200 climbs! It is also multi-pitch – most routes are two or three pitches long. It is in my opinion the best place to learn trad climbing in Australia.
I went to the Arapiles in October 2010 and 2011. Before I went I had only done a small amount of trad climbing, although I had been sport climbing since 2005. Araps is the best place to learn multi pitch trad. And it is cheap to go. We paid $1000 each and took four days annual leave to go climbing for 6.5 days. We went late October and made use of Labour Day. There were four of us. We hired a flash car, stayed in a cabin in Natimuk (10 mins drive to the crag) and cooked dinner each night. You can go much cheaper. Camping is $2 per night at Araps if you are keen! We worked out we paid $25 per pitch of climbing! On the second trip we went to the Grampians for two days (about 2 hours’ drive away).
We bought heaps of trad gear along for the ride! Way too much actually. Mike was very much into gear, so in addition to the usual nuts, cams and hexes we had ball nuts, link cams and the big bro. Pictured is Mike wearing all the gear at once.. Not recommended for actual climbing. We also had RPs or micro nuts, which are required at Araps. The rock is very solid, even with a tiny nut placement.
Another tip, when going to Araps, bring your passport to get into Australia. One of our group forgot it! It was a disaster for him, lost him a day and $800 (we didn’t wait for him in Melbourne as was suggested!)
Araps is also all about building trad anchors, which you get to do every pitch! Most of the belays are on a ledge and there is plenty of gear. We did one or two climbs where we were on a hanging belay which was a lot of fun! In theory you are supposed to have a 3-point anchor system. However, some of the pro is so good, it doesn’t really matter. I wouldn’t recommend using the rope as an anchor however, as the rock is very abrasive. You also get pretty good at your systems. I normally bring up the second in guide mode as you can let go of the rope when they stop moving and take good photos.
So I am just going to talk about a few of the fun climbs that we did to give you an idea of what it is like. The grades at Arapiles are quite stiff at the low end. An 18 in NZ is the same as an 18 in Arapiles in my opinion, but the lower grades are much harder at Arapiles. Our first climb was a grade 11. It was pretty steep and exposed. Grade 14 climbs can be vertical with small overhanging sections! Part of the reason is historical … when the first climbs were put up at Arapiles, the hardest climb in the world was maybe an 18. So even if a climb was hard, they didn’t want to make it anywhere near 18 or they would cop some flak.
One climb we did early on, I can’t remember the grade, had two pitches. The first pitch was really straight forward. The second was an awesome chimney, maybe grade 16. Chimney climbs are way more scary when you lead them!
While we were at the Arapiles we typically climbed routes with 3 or 2 stars. i.e. the absolute classics. We didn’t repeat anything, so if we had to take a rest or change gear, we weren’t worried about trying to do it again clean. No one fell on gear which was cool.
Everyone has different limits. In our group of four Rowan was our guru. This is him leading Kachoong. Kachoong is a single pitch grade 21. It is the most popular climb at Arapiles. It was awesome, but a little hard for me to lead. Maybe next time. Rowan led this climb and we seconded it. We all fell off it when seconding. We all had our excuses, like it was the end of a week of climbing and our hands hurt and it was hard seconding as we had to take the gear out! It would have been a stiff lead, but the gear is good!
I fully recommend going to the Arapiles if you want to lead trad climbing and multipitch. It really is NZ’s best crag climbing destination.